Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 12, 2020: Mandela Day 2020 will be a day more critically connecting than any we have had. It falls amid a locked down, fearful society who are spending their days dodging the threat of an invisible flu that holds a power well beyond the virus name would suggest. We are living through an economic crisis that leaves our businesses on the edge and our anxiety in constant flux, and there are more hungry mouths and unemployed families than we can reach.
It was Mandela that said that it is our compassion that “binds us together.” He was of course a man who believed in ubuntu. In understanding each other. and in reaching out to those around us in dignity, respect and acceptance. He believed in empathy.
This Mandela Day, beyond our actions on the day itself, let’s commit to look at how we create a more long-lasting impact into the second half of this tumultuous double twenty year. How we, like Madiba, can activate our empathy to create shared agendas, mutual strength and community recovery at a pace that resembles recovery. Arguably the most undervalued super power that we have, it will be empathy that allows us to have a recurring impact on those around us far beyond July 18th’s twenty-four changemaking hours.
Often mistaken as a skill we are born with more or less of, empathy is a natural ability we all possess, connecting us to those around us and allowing us to see the world from the stance of another. It is on days like this that our ability to deeply connect with people will allow us to gain in both unity in the long term.
Committing to the practice; how might we improve our empathy this Mandela Day and beyond?
3 habits that drive empathy:
Be present: make the people you speak to feel like they are the only person in the room. On July 18th many of us will be holding conversations with those less fortunate. This is a time to ensure you are using active listening. Phrases like 'what I'm hearing you say is...' makes the speaker feel further encouraged, as well as ensuring you can really hear what is being communicated to you. Ensure you listen to their words and their meaning, beyond hearing the speakers voice alone.
Lean Forward: Remember that the majority of our communication is nonverbal so be conscious to use your body language to promote engagement and connectivity with those around you, especially if you don’t share a spoken language. Lean inward towards the speaker ensuring your body language is open – with uncrossed arms – and that your eye contact remains focused.
Learn a new language: Mandela famously said “talk to a man in a language and it goes to his head, but speak to a man in his language and it goes to his heart.” We live in a country of so many mother tongues yet we so often speak only our own. As our rainbow nation unites next Saturday, take a pledge to learn a new language, not just for this day but for every day. If only to say ‘good morning, how are you?’ you could be making someone’s day, every day, for many months and years ahead, because after all is said and done, recognition for who we are, being seen, is our greatest human motivator.
“I see you.”
“I am here.”
67 minutes collectively represents a critically binding commitment, but alone these minutes will never be enough. Not for this year, not for 2020. This Mandela Day, beyond your actions, offer a commitment to practice empathy going forward. To connecting, to understanding, to continually viewing the world of another, from eyes far from your own. May July 18th mark the beginning of a new practice. To seeing our fellow humans not just for a day, but every day. It may turn out to be the greatest gifts you ever give.