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Reflections on Nelson Mandela

  • 12/5/2013 7:26:00 AM
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Reflections on Nelson Mandela

Today we learned of the passing of one of our planet's greatest leaders, Nelson "Madiba" Mandela.

As you all know, Madiba spent almost 30 years in prison in South Africa on Robben Island for the crime of political action to end apartheid; South Africa's version of Separate but Equal.

To me and my family, the most enduring thing about Madiba was that he was courageous enough to pursue his own truth. He stayed true to his principles, even through unimaginable personal pain and loss, and fought for what was right for him, his family, his country and even his oft neglected continent.

For many years, my father (now passed) and I have been students of his writings and leadership style. One of Mandela's driving points was to feel the urgency to change; that to the people suffering, next week may be too far away.

Below are a few key quotes from his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom. I hope you will take some time to read his words and remember his legacy. His philosophy about justice is very much aligned with YAP's and many of the quotes below remind me of the type of work you all do every day and the ways in which you do it.

-Shaena Fazal, YAP National Policy Director

"I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate. Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonoring them."

"It is a simple tale, but its message is an enduring one: virtue and generosity will be rewarded in ways that one cannot know."

"As a leader, I have always followed the principles I first saw demonstrated by the regent at the Great Place. I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the regent's axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind."

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."

"It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."

"There is little favorable to be said about poverty, but it was often an incubator of true friendship. Many people will appear to befriend you when you are wealthy, but precious few will do the same when you are poor. If wealth is a magnet, poverty is a kind of repellent. Yet, poverty often brings out the true generosity in others."

"A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a certain point, one can only fight fire with fire."

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished."

Mandela, Nelson (2008-03-11). Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Kindle Locations 11191-11195). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.

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For media and press inquiries, please contact Shaena Fazal at sfazal@yapinc.org.
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