David Wheatley started his professional career as a member Scotland Yard (British police force). His story is a brilliant illustration of how our current circumstances and culture result in a perspective. This perspective – the way we view the world – is ideally not fixed. With experience and an attitude of openness, we realize that our view of “reality” is simply our biased viewpoint.
As a cop in the mid eighties, I was often assigned to central London during special events. Being part of a public order team (twelve blokes in a van), we would be assigned to those places where high-visibility policing was required.
One such place was the South African embassy. At this time, South Africa was under apartheid rule. We spent many evenings standing outside the embassy, where a temporary barricade was set up to separate the building from the protest vigil. The protesters had vowed not to leave until South Africa released a prisoner by the name of Nelson Mandela.
I had no idea who Nelson Mandela was. My only information at the time was my order to protect the embassy from these people who stood in Trafalgar Square all day and all night, winter and summer, until he was released.
I had heard the song performed by The Specials called ‘Free Nelson Mandela.’ I knew my mum had an opinion when the Leeds City Council named a garden outside the Civic Hall ‘Mandela Gardens.’ In the opinion of a twenty-year-old London bobby, he was a foreign person serving time. On the bright side, he was also a source of overtime!
When he was released in 1990, I was a college student and much more open to what was happening in the wider world. I read about him, what he had done, and how he chose to act on his release. Over the next four years between Nelson Mandela’s release and becoming president, I realized why those people had been willing to stand in the cold and rain with their candles, singing ‘Free Nelson Mandela.’ Here was a man who believed in interdependence, understanding and forgiveness. It wasn’t easy, but it was right. By 2000, he was one of my leadership heroes.
In 2001, Launda and I were in the UK visiting family. That week, the City of Leeds was honoring Nelson Mandela by rededicating the same garden I was confused about some 15 years earlier. This was not an opportunity to pass up, so we took our kids (ages 13, 8, and 7) to Millennium Square, where we waited for a long time just so we could say we saw the great man himself. The captain of Leeds United at the time was Lucas Radebe, also the captain of the South African national side, and it was he who introduced Nelson Mandela.
On the 30th of April, 2001, we were all in the center of Leeds to be in his presence, and I am awed and proud to say it. If they locked him up again, I would be on the other side of the barricade until they let him go.
Life presents us with opportunities to expand our awareness, if we are open to do so. For those who need a nudge, Kevin Eikenberry offers Six Ways to Expand Your Perspective, and my favorite is Shut Up and Listen, closely followed by Ask More Questions. You’ll want to read them all – and be open to expanding or changing your view of “reality.”