From The Washington Post:
“A leader is like a shepherd,” Nelson Mandela proclaimed more than a decade ago in his autobiography. “There are times when a leader must move out ahead of his flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people in the right way.”
It’s an arrogant statement — could any other democratically elected politician get away with equating his constituents with sheep? — and yet supremely apt. For Mandela is arguably the greatest political leader of our time, the one person worthy of mention alongside FDR, Churchill and Gandhi. Mandela led the political and moral crusade for majority rule in South Africa against a white supremacist police state, risking his life, surrendering his personal freedom and his family’s well-being. He spent 27 years in prison only to emerge as a wise, dynamic and conciliatory figure binding black and white together as father of his nation and inspiration for the world.
The danger, of course, is that in extolling Mandela’s virtues, it’s all too easy to turn him into a saint — worshipped and untouchable and therefore of no practical value as a guide for our own behavior — and to lose track of the flawed, flesh-and-blood human being whom we can learn from and seek to emulate. As George Orwell once warned, “Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.”