When researching books for my reading list, I always like to link my choices to past events or current situations. Stumbling upon this book, I remembered a conversation I had a few years ago.
During my middle school days, I was a member of the ‘Anti-Violence Committee’, dealing with bullies on a daily basis. I remember as if it happened yesterday. One older pupil got in trouble for beating up a much younger boy. The reason behind his actions came as a surprise to all the committee members. When questioned about the event, his first answer was: “I punched him because I am older and I can do whatever I want”. This struck me and infuriated me more than I expected. It was not fair, from any perspective. So, I confronted him aggressively, which was against the foundations of the committee. The school principal handled the situation in a very professional, mature way, after which she turned to me and said “I understand your anger. Your anger is well justified. I see you fight for righteousness every day, what you need to understand is that you should not confront anger with anger, but with understanding and forgiveness”. She then proceeded on telling me about Nelson Mandela, how he fought for freedom and equality and how he won the Nobel Prize for peace. Back then, I was too young to fully comprehend the principal's advice, as well as Mandela’s so-long fight for good.
Over the years, I avoided diving more into this subject, from various reasons. I felt ready to read about him at this age, expecting to finally gain a deeper understanding of his work and morals. But I was not prepared for the rollercoaster of emotions that came along with this reading.
The autobiography takes us through his very detailed life experiences. From a young age, he was considered a rebel, constantly challenging the general rules. By attending tribe meetings with his father, he early understood the social injustice Africans were experiencing, rooted in racism by the white dominant parties. The urge for freedom and righteousness grew stronger and stronger. From that moment on, he kept challenging the authority, asking for equal rights.
He first fought for his own freedom, by rioting against the school’s administration for the lack of equality between white and black students, which led to him being expelled, in spite of his brilliant mind. He then chose to ran away, when forced to marry a woman he did not love. He then understood that he must fight for the freedom of his people. This led to his involvement with the African National Congress, which brought him charges of high treason by the Government, who was afraid of the fact that he gradually started to wake up the nation with his manifests. This sentence was seen as unfair by the entire population, who supported his cause and understood his words.
He spent 28 years in prison, journey which was nothing less than fascinating to me. He became the first black president a few years after his release, bringing recognition of rights and freedom of all people, regardless of their color or nationality.
He finishes the book by mentioning that his fight is not over, encouraging every reader to carry on kindness and equality, love and understanding. He opened many eyes and minds regarding racism and hatred, leaving behind a legacy valued forever.
I was deeply impressed with his view on education. He understood the importance of knowledge and open-mindedness, vowing to forever learn and grow. Starting from a young age, he attended the best schools an African child could at that time, constantly reading and broadening his perspective, which all built up to his wisdom and general understanding of human kind. He chose to dive deeper into legislation, in order to help his people. Even in prison, under terrible conditions and treatment, he chose to read and motivate others to learn, becoming a role model and proving his leadership. Over time, he managed to get his hands on multiple books and magazines, and convinced the guards to join his movement within the prison, leading to improvements for everyone.
There are not enough words to say how impressed I was about this. I also value education, I believe that the lack of information and a narrow perspective are what holds humanity back from growth. I have multiple situations from my life, with close people, that have proved my point. Learning is, indeed, the key to better.
My biggest key learning, as well as the general idea of the book, is to fight for my dream. Nelson Mandela fought tirelessly for what he believed in. Even if it meant sacrificing aspects of his life. His desire for freedom of any kind was the main driver of his daily actions. He was a born leader, inspiring other to believe in his dream, transparently and optimistically. He convinced other students to participate along his side during the school riot, he inspired people to join his movement with the African National Congress, he led the prisoners to riot for better conditions and equality. His entire life was nothing but a constant road to his end goal. He got sentenced for three decades because of his beliefs, which never stopped him from moving forward with impressive strength.
He even gave up his time with family, which is also his biggest regret. By the time he charged with life sentence, he had already been in hiding, underground or locked up, sacrificing his family and making them go through pain. This is one piece of information that troubled me. I am a firm believer in family, and I care deeply about this personal value. If sacrificing the idea of family is what it takes to fulfil my end goal, I will question my decision and the root of this dream.
Other inspiring idea was his view on failure. He proudly admits his mistakes, linking them to his success. Being in this entrepreneurial environment for almost three years, I understood the failure comes with learning and growing. Nevertheless, I still have a hard time truly comprehending and accepting this as a personal mantra. Seeing that Mandela himself was such an honest, down to earth human being, who taught people about failure, was again a reminder that I should ease myself and understand that I am human. Mistakes are acceptable, as long as I learn from them and grow.
Nelson Mandela was the definition of dignity and integrity. He could have easily accepted the money that came with surrendering his position in front of the Government, when approached by the white parties. Instead, he chose to keep fighting for what is right. He made a vow to himself, to his people, and never derailed from it. I have found myself in numerous situations where I could have lost sight of my core values, and in some I shamefully did. Being true to one’s self is very important, as Mandela proved along the pages.
The last chapter came as the final evidence for my story at the beginning of the essay. “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”. Mandela’s work was not only about giving freedom to the black people, but to all people who were affected, directly or indirectly, by racism and injustice, regardless of what side are you on. His wisdom helped him understand people beyond first impressions, religion, nationality, beliefs. He taught people to respond to anger with understanding.
This is the first time I read about something this socially impactful. Unfortunately, I have nothing to compare it with. I can only promise myself that I will carry on his learnings and read more about such people, such world-changing leaders. Mandela taught me that ‘change starts with one person’.
This book was not only an inspirational reading, but a full disclosure of slavery and racism in the deepest manner. It triggered a rollercoaster of multiple emotions: happiness, anger, revenge, understanding. Although it is a difficult book, the lessons are beyond valuable. This work of art should be read two times, for a deeper comprehension.