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In the closing pages of his remarkable biography, Nelson Mandela reflected on the leaders that were shaped by the era of apartheid in South Africa. He noted that “The decades of oppression and brutality had another, unintended effect, and that was that it produced… men of such extraordinary courage, wisdom, and generosity that their like may never be known again.  Perhaps it requires such depth of oppression to create such heights of character…”

In my country today, we are celebrating Canada Day. It is a day for great national pride. I will enjoy festivities on Parliament Hill with my family. I am reminded that our country is also enriched by what we learn from other nations. Today I am distracted by thoughts of a social and political leader in another place. I am reflecting on the life and leadership of Mandela as he lingers on life-support in a Pretoria hospital. Like his countless admirers around the world, I find it painful to watch him slip away knowing that his like may never be known again.

Today, on our national holiday, if we look at Canada’s political leaders, there are many who exhibit courage, wisdom and generosity. They should be celebrated for their contributions to our nation.  I don’t think our current political climate adequately rewards or recognizes such traits. It should. While we have no shortage of exemplary leaders in our own nation’s history, this is a good time to recommend a study of the life and writings of Nelson Mandela. The observation of his life and an examination of his words has enriched me, challenged me and motivated me.

For my blog post this Canada Day, I offer a special treat – a collection of some of my favourite Nelson Mandela quotes from his memoir “A Long Walk to Freedom”. I will not elaborate on these excerpts. The words speak for themselves. Prepare to be inspired.

P 91

The freedom struggle was not merely a question of making speeches, holding meetings, passing resolutions, and sending deputations, but of meticulous organization, militant mass action, and, above all, the willingness to suffer and sacrifice.

P 144

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

P 341

Men have different capacities and react differently to stress.  But the stronger ones raised up the weaker ones, and both became stronger in the process.

P 398

I never initiated conversations with warders, but if they addressed a question to me, I tried to answer.  It is easier to educate a man when he wants to learn.

P 461

But often, the most discouraging moments are precisely the time to launch an initiative.  At such times people are searching for a way out of their dilemma.

P 541

That day had come about through the unimaginable sacrifices of thousands of my people, people whose suffering and courage can never be counted or repaid.  I felt that day, as I have on so many other days, that I was simply the sum of all those African patriots who had gone before me.

P 542

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.

P 544

The oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.  A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness.  I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me.  The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity…

To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others…

I can only rest a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.

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  1. Pingback: Send a selfie: What did Nelson Mandela teach you? | Jane Philpott

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