Tuesday, August 9, 2011

TUESDAY ~ Book Review : 14

Hello to all Bluebell readers . I'm going to do something a little different , so please bear with me . Today , the book I have chosen is not a work of fiction , as is the norm with the Tuesday book review .
   I would like to share with you , from the book MANDELA'S WAY Lessons On Life , which is written by Richard Stengel . Over a two-year time frame , Richard Stengel amassed more than seventy hours of interviews with Nelson Mandela ; this is in addition to the hours , days and months they spent together . Stengel decided that he would be at Mandela's side as much as he could tolerate - at meetings , events , holidays and state trips . He spent hours with the icon at his home in Houghton , travelled with him to his country home in the Transkei , and accompanied him to America and Europe , and elsewhere in Africa . He campaigned with him , went to negotiation sessions with him , and became , as far as possible , his shadow . He kept a diary of their time together that eventually grew to 120 000 words . Much of this book comes from those notes .

 To quote Richard Stengel's words : "Mandela's life is a model not just for our time but all time . The lessons you are about to read are those that I believe he learned not only in prison but over the course of his whole life . They are among the things that make him a leader and an exemplary human being . No , not everyone can be Nelson Mandela . He would tell you to be grateful for that . Fortunately , few of us have to endure in our own lives what he had to endure in his . But that does not mean these lessons are not applicable to our daily lives . They are . I know , because my life has been deepened by them . For Mandela , prison distilled the lessons of life and leadership , and I have attempted to do the same in this book . You can learn them at a fraction of the cost he had to pay ." 


For each lesson , I am going to quote an extract from the relevant chapter in the book .

"Mandela defines courage in a curious way . He does not see it as innate , or as a kind of elixir we can drink , or learned in any conventional way . He sees it as the way we choose to be . None of us is born courageous , he would say ; it is all in how we react to different situations ."

"Let's be calm . In the midst of turbulent situations , Mandela is calm and looks for calm in others . In fact , he radiates calm . Lose control and you lose the situation . Yes , there may be times that call for an outburst or an impassioned response , but Mandela would say they are very rare , and that they should be calculated , not spontaneous . Control is the measure of a leader - indeed , of all human beings . Calm , he always says , is what people look for in tense situations , whether political or personal . They want to see that you are not rattled , that you are weighing all the factors , and that your response is measured ."

"Throughout his life , Mandela took risks to lead . If he were a soldier , he would be the one jumping out of the foxhole and leading the charge across the field of battle . His view is that leaders must not only lead , they must be seen to be leading - that is part of the job description . If there is something bothering you , if you feel you have been treated unfairly , you must say so . That is leading too . "

"He understood that some part - quite a large part - of leadership is symbolic and that he was a splendid symbol . But he knew that he could not always be in front , and that his own great goal could die unless he empowered others to lead . Mandela genuinely believed in the virtues of the team , and he knew that to get the best out of his own people , he had to make sure that they partook of the glory and , even more important , that they felt they were influencing his decisions ."

"Although he is a man of substance , he would say that it makes no sense not to judge by appearances . Appearances matter , and we have only one chance to make a first impression . Mandela loves clothes . He always has . He would not say that clothes make the man , but they do make an instant impression . His view is that if you want to play the part , you have to wear the right costume ."

"Nelson Mandela is a man of principle - exactly one : Equal rights for all , regardless of race , class or gender . Pretty much everything else is a tactic . Mandela has been called a prophet , a saint , a hero . What he is not is a naive idealist . He is an idealistic pragmatist , even a high-minded one , but at the end of the day , he is about getting things done ."

"Some call it a blind spot , others naivete' , but Mandela sees almost everyone as virtuous until proven otherwise . He starts with an assumption that you are dealing with him in good faith . He believes that , just as pretending to be brave can lead to acts of real bravery , seeing the good in other people improves the chances that they will reveal their better selves . It is extraordinary that a man who was ill-treated for most of his life can see so much good in others ."

"You go straight to their hearts . It was an echo of something else he had famously said about the art of persuasion : "Don't address their brains . Address their hearts ." And when you have won over your enemy , Mandela said , never gloat . The time of your greatest triumph is the time when you should be most merciful . Do not humiliate them under any circumstances . Let them , in fact , save face . And then , Mandela said , you will have made your enemy your friend ."

"While he often lost track of his colleagues , he never stopped tracking his opponents . You can trust your friends , in the sense that you roughly know that they will support you , and you can trust your enemies , in the sense that you assume that they will always oppose you . But your friendly rivals - they are the ones you need to keep tabs on . And Mandela always did . He did it discreetly . He would not have considered using intelligence services or private eyes to spy on his rivals . He knew that the best way to do that was not from a distance but from up close ."

"Nelson Mandela is not a man of maybes . He may be silent . He may be evasive . He will sometimes delay and postpone and try to avoid you . But in the end , he will not tell you what you want to hear just because you want to hear it . He doesn't like to say no ; you can see him struggling to get it out in a courteous way . But he knows that the price of not saying no now makes it harder to say it later . Better to disappoint someone early . And he won't sugarcoat it or put it off on someone else . When saying no , he wants to be clear and definitive . He doesn't offer false hope or leave the door open just a crack ."

"Twenty seven years in prison teaches you many things , but one of them is to play a long game . As a young man , Mandela was impatient : He wanted change yesterday . Prison taught him to slow down , and it reinforced his sense that haste often leads to error and misjudgement . Above all , he learned how to postpone gratification - his whole life embodies that . Many of us are used to the opposite . Because our culture rewards speed , we see impatience as a virtue . We try to seize the opportunity the moment it presents itself , to respond to every tweet or text message without stopping to think ."

"When it comes to love , Mandela is a romantic . But a pragmatic one . He had to be . For much of his life , love was something distant , existing more in his imagination and memory than in reality . Throughout his life , in the calculus between love and duty , duty almost always won out . There is little room for love in the life of a revolutionary and a prisoner . But Mandela never gave up on love , not even when it was postponed or inaccessible . If anything , his belief in the power of love grew stronger while he was in prison ."

"In many ways , Mandela's greatest act of leadership was the renunciation of it . When he became the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa , he probably could have stayed president for life if he had wanted to . He would certainly have been elected by acclamation to a second five-year term . When asked if he would stand for a second term , he replied , "Definitely not ." And he did not . That was a defining act of leadership ."

"During an interview , I once asked Mandela : Did you embrace the armed struggle because you thought non-violence would never defeat apartheid or because it was the only way to keep the party from splintering apart ? And then he said , "Richard , why not both ?" Why not both ? I often posed questions in that binary manner : Was something this way or that ? Was the reason A or B ? Yes/no ? Early on , I saw that this frustrated him , because for Mandela the answer is almost always both .It's never as simple as yes or no . He knows that the reason behind any action is rarely clear . There are no simple answers to most difficult questions . All explanations may be true . Every problem has many causes , not just one ." 

"Even on a remote but beautiful island , Mandela needed a place apart . A place where he could lose himself to find himself . On Robben Island , where there were few pleasures , his garden had become his own private island . It quieted his mind . It distracted him from his constant worries about the outside world , his family and the freedom struggle . While so much was withering outside , his garden was thriving . He would occasionally use garden metaphors when we talked . Men , he said , could be cultivated like plants . He once said that each of us should cultivate our own garden , but he also made it clear that , unlike Voltaire's Candide , he did not think we should remove ourselves from life in order to do it . For Mandela , his life was in service to others , and the garden was not a place of retreat but of renewal . The main thing is that each of us needs something away from the world that gives us pleasure and satisfaction , a place apart ."

QUOTE : This profoundly inspiring book captures the spirit of this extraordinary man - warrior , martyr , husband , statesman , and moral leader - and spurs us to look within ourselves , reconsider the things we take for granted , and contemplate the legacy we'll leave behind ."

Posted by Michelle . You can check out my blog here .


Geoff Maritz said...

Nice. Good lessons too. Wish the leaders of the world would take this advice seriously today, don't you.

MISH said...

Absolutely Geoff ! I agree with you 100%! It would go a long way towards solving the many problems that plague society ...

Bluebell Books said...

awesome review, love the new taste and details...

MISH said...

Thanks Bluebell !

Indie said...

I loved this.

Those principles are timeless and wise. This is just what I needed to read today.

Thanks for bringing it to us Michelle!