The Widdershins

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Posted on: December 6, 2013

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 1918 - 2013

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
1918 – 2013

I am grateful.  Grateful that we have lived contemporaneously with Nelson Mandela.  With his passing is the celebration of the life, career, activism, and embodiment of the world’s greatest example of leadership to which so many aspire.

Living during the time of Nelson Mandela is like what I would imagine living during Lincoln’s too short life would have been.  President Mandela emerged from prison to ascend to the Presidency of the most racially torn country on the planet and declared his unconditional love for the very countrymen who had imprisoned him.

Mandela’s story gives bones to so many concepts of leadership.  In honor of his passing, I thought I might share one.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned as a young man and he was not the man we have come to know.  He was angry.  He was physical.  He was not a model prisoner.  He fought, he was actively disobedient, and he harbored great, unfocused anger toward his captors.

After a few years of this rebellious behavior, Mandela had an epiphany.  He realized he had been imprisoned because of his belief all humans had value.  He realized his constant rebellion against the guards was causing him to treat them with less than dignity — the very dignity to which he knew all humans were entitled.  He was not living his belief.

He changed.  He began treating the guards with respect.  He started schooling them since most of the guards were Nelson Mandela prison shotilliterate white men who did not have the benefit of Mandela’s education.  He taught them to read and write.  He gave them a love of books.

Once he had taught them the basics, he expanded their education.  Mandela involved other prisoners in his efforts to “prison school” the guards.  He essentially created an academy at Robbins Island for the guards.  Remarkably, since the prison jobs were so coveted by a certain segment of the population, he taught generations of families giving them the benefits of an education.

After his imprisonment of 27 years, when he was released and was inaugurated as President of South Africa, Mandela reserved rows of seats at his inauguration ceremony.  Those seats were reserved for the prison guards — the very men who had imprisoned him and the same men he had found it within his heart to educate.  The reason:  Mandela wanted to demonstrate there was no greater power of healing than forgiveness.

I love that story.  The very men who held Mandela prisoner for 27 years, who denied his freedom, who denied him his family, who denied him his youth, who denied him his worth were at his inauguration as his special guests.  That depth of forgiveness is not of this world.

This story demonstrates his extraordinary depth of leadership and his commitment to a sustainable set of values.  When I used this story in leadership training, I then handed out a deck of cards to the participants.  On this deck of cards were printed 50-some values — things like family, justice, equality, truth, morality, education, art, etc.  I would then ask the participants, usually about 20-30 per session, to tell me those things that were  important to them as people and those things they espoused to be in their personal set of sustainable values.

Without fail, the participants would quickly amass a card stack of 20 or 30 cards representing a set of values they personally claimed.  Participants always claimed a value set of this size because there is an overriding sense of social desirability associated with claiming values.  Much like a Vera Wang gown or a Tom Ford tuxedo, if it doesn’t cost anything most everyone will claim one.

Once the participants sorted to their personally claimed 20 or 30 socially desirable values, I then asked them, “Now, of those values you are claiming, for which values would you spend 27 years in prison?”

Nelson Mandela wavingNeedless to say, the stack of claimed values thinned considerably.  Most people ended up with just one card (always “family”) and never more than two or three claimed values for which they would spend 27 years in prison.  I would then ask, “Outside of your family, what do you have left?”  A vast majority of people, outside of their claimed value of family, have nothing for which they would spend 27 years in prison.

In celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela and in his memory, I put this question to the Widdershin world, “Outside of family, for what values would you be willing to spend 27 years in prison?”

This is an open thread.



16 Responses to "Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela"

Prolix, thank you for this wonderful tribute. It’s odd, I really thought Nelson Mandela would somehow never die. But I guess given all he accomplished, he never really will.

Great post and tribute to Mandela. I had never heard that info about him forming a school while he was in prison and then having the guards at his inaugural ceremony.

I saw that all of the Prezs (?) are going to the funeral and I guess Biden has to be left behind to mind the store. Hope Bush the Elder will be able to make the trip.

to Prolix and Beata and anyone else around the OH valley and such: becareful if you are going out anywhere. It looks like it’s going to be nasty for y’all with the snow and ice.

Oh this is too funny. The repubs had a “training day” on how to talk to women”! LOL!!

One of the things about President Mandela, he wasn’t born a saint and for a good part of his early life, he did not live as a saint. But he came to redemption through self-reflection and self-awareness and self-challenge. That is what I find most remarkable about his life — stuck in a tiny prison cell without any real hope, he found a way.

I think of so many people who just give up — Mandela never did and that has given me a great amount of encouragement at points in my life where there was very little about which to be hopeful.

MB, you are right, Mandela will never die because you never truly die until the last person who knows of you speaks your name for the last time. Mandela is truly someone for the ages.

@3, Fredster, it is still raining, but it seems as though the ice monsters are about to begin urinating. I think Beata has maybe had it much worse up in Indiana.

prolix@6: We’re about to start getting the next round of rain here. According to the local weather gawd we’ll be going to the upper 30s tonight so no freezing I hope.

Snow I can handle if I have to. Ice, I don’t even want to venture outside at all. You simply cannot drive on it, or at least I can’t.

You’re probably right about Beata. I do hope she was able to get her groceries and meds, esp. the meds.

Great post, Prolix. I learned a lot about Mandela I hadn’t known before.

Having studied Holocaust history in college, I always wondered if I had been living in Europe at that time, would I have been brave enough to risk imprisonment or death to try to save Jews and other victims from Nazi genocide? People who were not relatives; who were perhaps total strangers to me? Of course, I’ll never know.

Raoul Wallenberg is one of my heroes. He suffered imprisonment and death for the righteous acts he performed.

We had freezing rain most of the day yesterday, then ice, then snow starting around 10 o’clock last night – on top of the ice. It has been snowing continuously since then. We must have a foot of snow already and it hasn’t stopped yet.

I had a friend go to the grocery and pharmacy for me this morning. It was too dangerous for me to go out. The ice is particularly scary. But I have what I need now. My power is on and it’s warm in my house, so I’m fine. More snow expected here on Sunday.

Beata@9: Good to hear from you and glad you had someone able to get your meds and some groceries. I’m keeping fingers crossed for your power!

Remembering the man that became the First President of The Republic of South Africa who like the Mahatma before him humbled a oppressive government by his quiet grace and humanity.

What I would spend 27 years in Prison for Family, and my personal belief in the dignity of the human soul & Spirit.. I would aspire to be like Nelson Mandela.

Speaking of the Holocaust, my husband (who recalled a grandfather speaking German) one day said he’d often wondered if he would have had the courage to push back against the Nazis. “But then,” he added, “I realized I could never have gone along with them–because our daughter would have been one of the first they killed.” (She is severely retarded.)

But since he and I were children in the 30’s, who can be sure? What we heard from the Germans we knew was that they had taken Nazism for granted, bedazzled by Hitler, and did not comprehend the evil. I do not suppose that ‘saving the Jews’ (and gays and other degenerates, etc.) had ever occurred to them. There were heroes even then–but would the heroes have included us?

Great thoughts Molly but look at Oskar Schindler he was a NAZI but look at how many lives he saved? Good people can be found in the strangest places

Amazing post Prolix. What an inspiring story. The values question is a good one. I honestly don’t know right now, but will be thinking about that a lot. Meanwhile, in other Mandela news, Dick Cheney doesn’t regret voting against the “Anti-apartheid act” which included freeing political prisoners including Mandela:

“…the U.S. Congress, lawmakers were ready to show their opposition to the South African regime with the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, a bill that called for tough sanctions and travel restrictions on the nation and its leaders, and for the repeal of apartheid laws and release of political prisoners like Mandela, then leader of the African National Congress (ANC).

The measure passed with bipartisan support, despite strong and largely Republican opposition. President Ronald Reagan was among those most opposed to the bill, and when he finally vetoed the measure over its support of the ANC, which he maintained was a “terrorist organization,” it took another vote by Congress to override it. Among the Republicans who repeatedly voted against the measure was future Vice President Dick Cheney, then a Republican congressman from Wyoming.”

More interesting stuff in this piece, including what Mandela thought of Cheney as vp:

Chat, hope you’re feeling better soon!

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