The Widdershins

Activist Wednesday: Memorialize, Don’t Sanitize

Posted on: December 11, 2013

After the death of Nelson Mandela, many of us are pondering what the man and his life meant to us and to the world. Prolix’s post about leadership was very thought-provoking, asking us to put ourselves in Mandela’s place and think about what we hold so dear that we would spend 27 years in jail to honor it.

My answer is: Nothing.

You see, I am an agnostic and a person of action. I am not a person of faith. It takes a person of faith to say, “Hey, I’m in this prison cell. I’ve given up my family, my home, my freedom, my friends, and yet, I can still be effective in standing up for my beliefs by doing…nothing.”

I would have a very hard time believing that it is more effective to sit in a prison cell, being an example to whomever you’d like to inspire, than to go out and take action on your beliefs. Clearly Mandela’s faith proved correct, but I don’t know how he stuck to it for 27 years. I’m sure he had many moments where he stopped believing. He was, after all, only human.

And this brings me to a very interesting article I saw on Think Progress. Apparently, Mandela was not a perfect man destined for sainthood. (Insert outraged gasp here.) He held some controversial views that might shock some of us. I admit they shocked me. But then I asked myself, why? What is it that makes someone a great leader, even if you don’t agree with everything that person says?

I think after some consideration, I have arrived at a conclusion that works for me: A great leader is someone who lives his/her values. That is the essence of integrity and trust. You may not agree with some of those values, but you at least accord the leader the respect that s/he deserves because of his/her faithful adherence to them.

So what I am saying is, if you are a great leader, you don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to have your opinions sanitized to fit the current political climate. Instead, you can hold some views that are standard “progressive”/liberal, and hold some that are downright cray-cray. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you hold true to yourself and stay consistent to your values and beliefs.

Do you agree? Do you disagree?

From the Think Progress article linked above, here are the six thing Nelson Mandela believed that are now controversial. Please let us know in comments whether or not you feel any of these causes you to de-sanitize and/or de-sanctify Mandela.

1. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism.

2. Mandela called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right.”

3. Mandela criticized the “War on Terror” and the labeling of individuals as terrorists without due process.

4. Mandela called out racism in America.

5. Mandela embraced some of America’s biggest political enemies.

6. Mandela was a die-hard supporter of labor unions.

This is an open thread.


15 Responses to "Activist Wednesday: Memorialize, Don’t Sanitize"

They sound perfectly fine to me. As to number 5: America’s political ‘enemies’ are systems (political/economic) not people. As for the people in those systems, they can still be worthy of love–even if respect for them is a bit hard to come by. I think of Germany, Japan, and Russia–the ‘enemies’ I was only too familiar with growing up–and acknowledge that their leaders had perverted the minds of their followers (usually with dreams of glory and ‘honor,’). But, as I remarked the other day, would I have fallen under the spell of Hitler and his confreres in evil? I’d hope not–but, being only too human, I might have found it easier to ‘go along.’

But still: we cannot only love the lovable: it’s the others who need our pity and what love we can muster.

I am a huge fan of accurate history, rendered somewhat difficult by a tendency to be the unilateral memory of victors as well as colored by the varying memories of participants. History has warts, people have flaws, and the kindest thing that we can do for ourselves and future generations is to pass forward an accurate representation of the way things were,

I might have a quibble about # 3, but we have taken this “war” too far in giving up (did we have a choice?) some of our own freedoms. Otherwise, I’ve got no gripes about that list.

Excellent post MB!!

Excellent post MB. Couldn’t agree more with your definition of great leadership:

A great leader is someone who lives his/her values. That is the essence of integrity and trust. You may not agree with some of those values, but you at least accord the leader the respect that s/he deserves because of his/her faithful adherence to them.

Mandela was not a perfect man. He was someone, through the wear of time, we came to forget about his early years. Thankfully, those early years didn’t come to define him, but they certainly helped make him who he became. Much like a river, every tributary contributes.

One thing that did separate Mandela from most leaders. He did have a good sense of himself. He repeatedly told people he did not deserve the adulation of sainthood. He knew he had committed grievous wrongs in his early life, but he came to understand they were not the ways of a true leader.

Mandela did come to live by his “found” values in that prison cell. No one should for a moment believe that some of those values were also strategic tactics because they were. He was truthful about that in his later interviews and in his biography. Mandela came to be in his situation as much as anything as an accident of history. Through reflection and self-awareness, he turned that accident to his advantage, not just as a leader, but as a person. That is the secret of leadership, no one sets out to be a true leader, it is merely a byproduct of living a refined set of values. Trust and integrity are mere reflections of those values.

I don’t have a problem with the list either (like Fredster, think #3 is questionable). The only thing I’ve heard about Mandela that I didn’t approve of is that he dumped his first wife and kids. You never hear about her.

annie are you talking about Winnie Mandela or was there one before her? If it was Winnie you mean, she had some issues of her own.

Winnie certainly has a checkered past!

Molly@7: Oh yes indeed!

Just wanted to pass along that Fredster now has health insurance through the federal exchange! It wasn’t cheap but I signed up for a platinum plan. Had to sit down and literally figure things out with a tablet and calculator, looking at co-pays and deductibles between plans, as well as the cost of maintenance meds. I’m disappointed with the way BCBS-AL does some things. For example if I had to go into the hospital there is a $150 co-pay by me for the first 5 days in the hospital. These days who the hell stays in for any longer than 5 days unless it’s an exceptionally serious situation. I mean, you go into the hospital and just about the 2nd person you see is a social worker who is planning your discharge! OTOH, the co-pay for doctor visits is $20 so I can’t complain about that.

Like everything else, there were tradeoffs involved.

Fredster, congrats on getting your insurance. I hope it works out for you. Do you think it was more $ than it would have been before ACA?

No, the wife I was talking about was his first wife, Winnie was the second. I read years ago that they had a bunch of kids (who I think are all dead now) and that he was always away from home for long periods, and cheated on her a lot and she also claimed he was abusive. Anyway, she took the kids and moved in with her parents and they divorced and he married Winnie the next year. Meanwhile the first wife found religion and didn’t want any part of the spotlight, so like I said, you rarely hear of her. Even the great have blips in their pasts. If they hadn’t split up he might not have gone on to the great things he did later.

annie@10: No, it would have probably been more on the open market if I could have gotten it. A plan before ACA would have had a waiting period for pre-existing conditions if they were even covered at all. I can’t say this for sure, but probably almost all of these individual plans will fall short compared to a plan with a large organization. I did qualify for a subsidy but then I also had the surcharge for using tobacco.

There were only two companies offering coverage here: Blue Cross and Humana. The Humana plans were awful. There were hardly any doctors in their network except for the ones at what I call the “doc-in-a-box” groups.

I didn’t know that Mandela had three wives. You’re right, you never hear anything about his first wife.

If they hadn’t split up he might not have gone on to the great things he did later.

Yep, that’s probably true.

Yes, the pre-existing condition business. That has been my fear for hubbie and laker with their muscular dystrophy. That is why hubbie has stayed working for lausd for so many years when he could have made considerable more in the private world. The best thing about ACA is the no pre-existing condition thing. I hope it isn’t taken away. I also like the part about being able to insure your kids on your insurance til age 26. With the decimation of the middle class, I know a lot of families, especially the single parent ones, that want their kids to stay at home longer and help out with room & board $. Its just a completely different world than the one we grew up in the 70s. It is hard for young people to find jobs that offer insurance for them now whether they are going to school or just working. Anyway, glad you got your plan. It sounds pretty decent. That made my day. 🙂

annie: Keeping good health insurance is indeed a big reason people do not change jobs a lot these days if they can avoid it.

Hell I can remember when I was still in college and on dad’s health insurance and I had to have surgery on my hand. Today it would be done as outpatient surgery, but then I went in the day before and had all the tests done, spent the night, had the surgery the next day, spent another night or two and then got discharged. With the plan he had through the company and the union I don’t think he paid a dime for that. Of course now we know that probably half of that wasn’t necessary, like checking in the day before and stuff but that’s the way they did it then.

I don’t think anyone will fool with the ban on pre-existing conditions now that the ACA has gone this far: it would prove too unpopular and no politician would come out on the winning side if they tried it. Same thing goes for keeping your kids on your policy until they’re 26.

I checked off every item on that list.
Who knew that Nelson Mandela and I had so much in common?
Congratulations, Fredster.

Sue@14: Thanks Sue.

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