A famous philosopher Immanuel Kant, once said that a measure of the person wasn’t how they behaved when times were good, or when they wanted to be kind or caring. Kant felt that the true measure of a person was in how they behaved when they didn’t want to, and when there was nothing to be personally gained for them.
We have all had moments where a loved one didn’t speak to us the way we wanted to be spoken to, or a teacher without all the facts acted in a way we felt was unfair, perhaps a co-worker or friend did something we felt was mean. Could you be kind to them regardless of how they treated you? What if the people you choose to be kind to were people who helped to keep you in jail for 27 years when you had done nothing unlawful or wrong? Could you befriend someone who had played a part in you being deprived of your freedom, and locked in a tiny jail cell for almost 3 decades?
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island in South Africa. Mandela was convicted of sabotage during apartheid. Basically, Mandela was imprisoned because he opposed a system and its government that segregated people based on their race. From 1964 until 1990 Mandela lived in a locked cell, with a tin pail for a toilet and no bed-he was forced to sleep on a mat on the floor. Mandela was forced to do hard labour in a quarry daily, and was only allowed one visitor per year, for only 30 minutes. At the time of his unlawful imprisonment Mandela was father to six children who for much of their lives never got to see their dad.
Mandela was an amazing leader and example of love, forgiveness, and kindness and one of the things that made him so remarkable is that upon his release in 1990, not only did he not express anger, or hatred towards his jailers, he actually befriended them. In fact, he invited one of them to attend his 1994 presidential inauguration and to the 20th anniversary celebration of his release from prison. Both James Gregory, and Cristo Brand, Mandela’s jailers spoke of the deep respect they had for this man. Brand went from being pro-apartheid as a young man to someone who stood with Mandela against racial segregation, and oppression.
It takes something to be loving when we are mad, to be kind to those who have mistreated us, to forgive, what could seem like the unforgivable. Yet throughout history we see many examples of people just like you and me, choosing to be kind even when others would not. What makes these human beings special? Is there something unique about them that makes them able to be kind when others wouldn’t? No, they are exactly like you and I, they made a choice to give up holding on to anger and hatred, even when they had every right to be upset. Mandela chose to be empathetic, to get into the shoes of his jailers and realize they were men just like him, with families and children as well who were doing their jobs. Nelson Mandela learned to speak their language, to understand their history and experiences as Afrikaans. These choices were what led his jailers to respect him, and ultimately have a change of heart about segregation.
Nelson Mandela’s choice to forgive and come from love and kindness is what helped him gain the trust of his South African oppressors allowing him to be elected President in 1994. They expected revenge, anger, and hatred, and instead were shown forgiveness and loving kindness. Not only was Mandela’s influence on his jailer’s life-changing, their friendship has become a lesson in kindness and forgiveness for all of us.