When Nelson Mandela died last year, I went to see a new film about his life and, like many people around the world, I reflected on what an extraordinary and complex man had passed away. His legacy will forever be his unusual integrity and his refusal to allow himself to be a victim.
I have been thinking a lot about this unusual strength to never take a position of victimization and what it really means. Not in the extreme circumstances of imprisonment, torture and humiliation I have never had to endure, but in the protected, comfortable and blessed circumstances of my own life, where the sense of being a victim might hide in the soft folds of the psychological sphere, the deep, dark creases of sensitivity. Feelings of powerlessness, impotence, helplessness or hurt can be deep and strong and seem perfectly justified to the sensitive self – the same self that is so inspired by a man like Nelson Mandela and regards him as a true hero.
How do these things go together?
A while back I was upset for months because a friend obviously was avoiding me – she owed me money and did not want to deal with it, so I never heard from her. I had every right to be upset and angry, in a way, it was her after all, putting a wall of separation between us.
In a way….because I was not really a victim of her lack of clarity.
What source gives a man like Mandela the strength to invite his prison guards to sit in the first row at his inauguration as president? Though it’s not really possible to compare oneself to anyone, let alone a man like Nelson Mandela, I have caught whiffs of the spiritual depth this strength arises from in my own experience.
This is what I thought about when I finally got together with my friend. She immediately owned up to the fact that she had been avoiding the issue and not only was the air clear between us just as instantly, we also saw just how both easy and very challenging it is to hold to the best in each other and oneself.