Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Learning from Mandela's Way

Nelson Mandela
i've just finished listening to the audio book of Mandela's Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage, a book by Richard Stengel, read by the author. It was fantastic: enjoyable, moving and insightful.

Stengel collaborated with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela began his career as a terrorist against the officially racist (anti-black) and oppressive regime of South Africa. He went was sent to prison for violent crimes in 1963. He pleaded guilty at his trial, saying he was guilty of fighting for universal equality and freedom. Twenty-seven years later he came out of prison ready to forgive the people that put him there. He worked towards both freedom of the oppressed black-skinned Africans of South Africa and the reconciliation and security of that country's white-skinned minority. In 1994, he became South Africa's first democratically elected President. In 1999, at least equally important, he chose not to run for an (otherwise assured) 2nd term, instead ushering in a peaceful and democratic change of power. His incredible personal growth and impeccably reasonable nature in all situations not only avoided civil war and lead to the creation of a modern country, but also makes him the powerfully effective sage-saint the world has come to know. In Mandela's Way, Stengel elaborates on 15 lessons taught to us by Mandela's life and successes.

The fifteen lessons are:

Mandela's Way, by Richard Stengel

  1. Courage is not the absence of fear.
  2. Be measured.
  3. Lead from the front.
  4. Look the part.
  5. Lead from the back.
  6. See the good in others.
  7. Keep your rivals close.
  8. Have a core principle.
  9. Know when to say no.
  10. Know your enemy.
  11. It’s always both.
  12. Love makes the difference.
  13. It’s a long game.
  14. Quitting is leading too.
  15. Find your own garden.
To learn about how Mandela lived these lessons left me thinking that A) i was doing well to pay close attention to what i was hearing and to then meditate on the lessons and try to incorporate them into my life and B) i need to (and now have) put Nelson Mandela into my mind among the greatest persons and best influences i know about.

Stengel, in this book, (and many other contemporary writers) have taken to describing Mandela as a saint. Of course, nobody means to imply anything having to do with the vapid designations put by pontiffs. They use the term, i think (and i adopt it here), to signify the heroic good example of his life to be emulated by the rest of us.

The many stories that Stengel gives us to show these lessons are excellent. But two of the principles struck me as much more important than all the others:  number 6, to see the good in others, and number 8, to have a core principle. Surely they are all important for me in my life, but these are the two that i think can make the most difference for me as i attempt to be a person of substance and happiness, and they are the two i think the world needs most from us all.

i recommend both Mandela and the book to you all. Thank you to Stengel for writing it, and thank you to Mandela for living as he did!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Texas does not seem weird!

When i began telling my friends that i was going to Texas for an extended visit as i am considering moving there within the next year, the responses varied in wording but the tone was always the same:

Sign in the History of Printing Museum, Houston, Texas

"Oh wow. ...well......"

"You're WHAT?? Why would you do THAT??"

My response to this last question was simple and immediately understood: "Because that's where she lives."

i had met a beautiful Texan woman and was considering putting my life together with hers. And, just as my friends were, i was expecting a culture shock at least as extreme as when i moved from the United States to Italy 8years ago. i had, after all, grown up in New England. Waterbury, Connecticut is in one of the old immigrant, industrial towns of that tiny state and everything i'd heard about Texas while growing up lead me to believe that The Lone Star State would be a cross between the Wild West of Spaghetti Westerns and an unknown intergalactic moonscape.

But now, after nearly 3weeks in Houston, i am finding that my friends' (and my own) premonitions about big, bad Texas were unneeded. In fact, the place doesn't actually seem weird at all! Sure, i have been able to find  some regional distinctness, but from my experience thus far it is mild when present. Incredibly, the people don't even talk funny, hardly any accent at all most of the time!

Now, i'm sure that TEXAS Texas does exist out there, full of cowboys, racists, preachers and other scary creatures, enthusiastically perpetuating the stereotypes we all know. But it seems to me you'd find a similar cut of folk at Connecticut flea markets or inland Florida small towns as well.

In the last three weeks i have been to art museums, New Age chapels, worked out and played in a YMCA, spent lots of time and too much money in a Starbucks, joined the local Theosophy Society, shopped in an Asian-language supermarket, hit the public library, shopped and strolled through the mall, wandered through a deserted urban downtown on the weekend, and i have met a variety of open minded (and even liberal) people - just like i've done in CT, FL, and Washington DC.

So, subtlety aside, Texas just has not struck me as weird. And i am glad:-)
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