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December 12, 2013 at 6:15 AM

The spirit of reconciliation at Nelson Mandela’s funeral

World leaders, President Obama among them, used the memorial service for Nelson Mandela as an opportunity to meet and greet and schmooze. No glowing eulogy would make the late, great liberator any prouder.

President Obama with Cuban President Raul Castro (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Obama with Cuban President Raul Castro
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Mandela helped free South Africa by seeking out and talking to the very people who put him in jail for 27 years. He overcame all the human instincts to loathe his oppressors, and chose instead to work with them to transform a racist regime. Instead of exacting revenge, Mandela extended his hand. Obama circulated among the mourners Tuesday and shook the hands of world leaders. No telling how a simple act of courtesy might yield dividends. The ether was roiled by photos of the U.S. president greeting Cuban President Raul Castro. What better way, one might hope, to begin to narrow the aged and artificially sustained diplomatic distance between two nations.

The U.S. is miffed at lots of countries, and the frustration and contempt is returned in many ways. Cutting through that tension with a greeting and a handshake can be a real start toward reconciliation. Even as basic as an exchange of phone calls later.

One can imagine Mandela, who showed the world how to forgive and move ahead, is smiling and pleased.

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