The Power of Choice in Difficult Situations

Power of Choice - Nelson Mandela

Long after he was released from prison, Nelson Mandela was once travelling on a propeller plane with four associates. As soon as he got on the plane, he picked up the newspaper and got absorbed into it.

About halfway through the journey, he looked up from the newspaper and pointed out the window and said, very calmly, to the associate sitting across, “You might want to inform the pilot that the propeller has stopped working.

It turned out the pilots were aware of the situation and were in touch with the nearest airport to make the necessary landing arrangements. Through the rest of the journey, Mandela continued reading the newspaper and remained extremely calm. He didn’t change his expression and didn’t panic. His calmness helped the associates travelling with him to manage their anxiety and remain calm.

The plane landed safely without any incidents. During a moment alone with one of the associates, Mandela said, “Man I was scared up there.”

Courage is a choice to not be afraid

In the airplane story above, Mandela chose to stay calm. And that helped his associates to remain calm as well. The same happened while he was in prison. The other inmates looked up to him during difficult times.

After his release from prison, he chose to forgive his oppressors. He made a conscious choice of not letting his past experiences and emotions affect his thinking and behaviour.

Mandela was tested very often, but he strongly believed in exercising his choices and influencing the results.

How can you use this story?

Let’s say you are talking to your team about handling a project situation with an unreasonable client. You want to drive the point of looking beyond and keeping a stable mind.

You can say, “We are often not in control of the world we live in, but we are in control of how we respond. We are not in control of the market changes or the pandemic, it’s important we are in control of how we respond to those changes. Nelson Mandela was a great example of this. One day he was travelling…”

Telling stories instead of stating your point plainly is an effective way to communicate. Storytelling engages the senses and connects with people better, thus helping them easily understand abstract concepts

Story Source: The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela, Interview with Richard Stengel