The question lingered over Nelson Mandela’s agenda. As the newly elected president of South Africa with a laundry list of problems to address, Mandela gave part of his attention to his nation’s rugby team.

“Rugby?” his closest advisors asked. The importance of a sporting event when the country was attempting to unify and rebuild seemed frivolous.

But it wasn’t. In fact, it became part of the upmost importance in nation building and rebuilding.

Such is the story told in the movie Invictus, which traces South Africa’s improbable win of rugby’sWorld Cup in 1995.

I finally got a chance to see the movie yesterday, a special treat to myself, and walked away as inspired as I thought I would be.

Sport operates on many levels and Mandela understood this perfectly. The 1995 World Cup was not only hosted by South Africa, putting the nation on an international stage, but it also marked the first international sporting event  the country participated in since the world banned it from competition during the apartheid era.

Aside from the ability to put South Africa back in a positive international light, the World Cup and the success of the underdog Springboks had the potential to unite the country across racial, ethnic and economic classes.

It was sport at its best.

It’s what keeps us coming back to the world of sports, despite our grumbles at salaries and commercialization and performance enhancing drugs. It’s what makes some moments so special to be part of — a chance to be part of something bigger than yourself.

But while the movie touches on a plethora of themes on sports and politics, it also opens the space for a discussion on leadership.

There is a scene in the movie where captain Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon) and Mandella (played by Morgan Freeman) talk about leadership and inspiration. Leadership comes from example. But evoking inspiration is something more elusive. How do you convince people they can do more than they think they are capable of?

It’s not about achieving miracles. It’s about our collective habit of selling ourselves short. Of thinking we can only do so much, believing that things are out of our reach. Good leadership, it seems, inspires people not necessarily to overachieve in actuality, but to overachieve their own estimations, which for all the talk of American dreams, still is rather easy to do.

I can easily and quickly compile a list of all the things I can’t do. Or, more specifically, the things I think I can’t do.

The movie Invictus is named for the poem by William Ernest Henley — a poem that Mandella used often to get through his years as a political prisoner.

The final two lines read:

I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul.

Leadership and inspiration can certainly come from political leaders and national sports figures who seemingly transcend every day existence in their abilities and their accomplishments.

But in the end, regardless of the circumstances we are dealt, we each are the maters of our own fate and the captains of our own souls.

It’s one thing to be moved by the quote.

It’s another thing to live it.

What can I accomplish today if I live from that place?

I can only find out if I’m willing to try.


~ by amymoritz on January 8, 2010.

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