Lessons from: Nelson Mandela: Conversation with myself (London: Macmillan, 2010)

(Disclaimer:  I promised to review E.W. Said ‘Orientalism’ this weekend,  but as I sat and reflect upon it, I wasn’t sure if am (yet) capable of doing it. I am still trying to understand it especially its implication to Africa and in particular “African studies”…I might ask Chambi Chachage for a chat about it before doing it! Well, since I promised to have a book review or lesson on my blog every weekend of 2014, I asked my brother- Shirumisha to write something from one of the books he has recently read …he gladly agreed and here is what he wrote)

What makes a great leader: Lessons from:Nelson Mandela: Conversation with myself (London: Macmillan, 2010)

By Shirumisha Kwayu

After the death of Nelson Mandela, the humble Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, urged people to emulate Nelson Mandela. Many leaders around the globe did the same. Nelson Mandela was one of highly regarded leader of the 21st century. He was unselfish to principles of democracy and justice.

This week I was fortunate to get time to read a book that records his personal life of Mandela. It is the “Nelson Mandela: Conversation with myself”. The book is exposing and fun. It is a collection of letters and dialogues with friends. I enjoyed reading the letters and some stories that were part of the dialogues. The most enjoyable stories were, to name a few, “the analogy of moneychangers”, “the shadows of Nazareth”, and “the wind and sun”.

This brief note is not about retorting the stories but rather to note a few things that I’ve learned from this book.

The importance of reading widely– this is evident in Mandela’s letters and dialogues with people recorded in the book. Mandela used knowledge from vast literature to cement his arguments and also to strike conversations with people of different caliber and from different backgrounds.  It is evident that Mandela read a lot of literature about revolutions when he was establishing the Umkhomtu we Siwze. He read narrations of different revolutions occurred in the world with Algerian revolution being the notable one.

The art of expressing ourselves– the letters and conversations expressed clearly Mandela’s thoughts in an honest way. He expressed them in a simple way that combines both easiness and seriousness of his convictions. Also he didn’t want his conversations to leave a negative image of other people, he remained positive throughout. He tried as much as possible not to be offensive yet maintaining honesty without flirting.  On another side, people in the conversations also teach us the same. The way the warders were communicating with the prisoners determined efficiency during duties. The warder who spoke to them gently got a lot more done than the one who spoke harshly. Remember the condition was the same but the communication was different and it made a difference.

Thinking with mind not blood– It’s quite important to learn and think realistically without allowing personal and emotions to take over our logical thinking. People prefer to stay away from problems rather than facing them. For instance many politicians prefer to deliver rubble speeches in order to win the masses. They can get a lesson from Mandela. He spoke what he believed without caring who will like it or not. He also decided to change the way of making his speeches by adopting the more gentle method that was more effective. The story of the wind and sun fits here well. I wont narrate it here, but I urge you to read the book so you can come across it.

 Keeping record of diaries and personal journals– Keeping records of ourselves helps us to keep history. Information, which may be regarded useless today, might be very useful tomorrow. For instance, letters to Mandela wife (Winnie), children’s, leaders, friend and colleagues were the main source used to construct this book. These letters show the side of Mandela, which we would never know if they had not kept them. Many people have considered Mandela a saint or angel but his letters and dialogues show his human side with emotions and weakness. I consider the human being side of Mandela more important as it challenges most of us to emulate him as suggested by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Meditation: When Winnie was in prison and there was no one (Mandela and/or Winnie) at home to look after the children, Mandela sent a letter to Winnie. In this letter Mandela was encouraging Winnie to learn how to meditate. Mandela argued that meditation is important for searching oneself soul. This, he contended, might be tiring at the beginning but in the tenth time you will get hold of it. Mediating is important as you can look at the mistakes that originate from yourself and it will help you evaluate by telling your self the truth. Many people keep deceiving themselves sometimes it better to leave everything and find time to search our soul and inner being.

 Lastly, The book of Mandela emphases values as biggest asset for socialisation. Humility and humbleness are shown and emphasized by Mandela as the greatest values that are honoured universally.  Respecting others regardless of their age is quite important. In certain tale Mandela describes how he felt very bad when he spoke harsh words to a friend, he later went to make peace with them. Also in another event when they were smuggling letters into the prison, a young warder saw them and pretended as if he hadn’t seen them, Mandela felt very bad for this because his colleague made it openly and it was a disrespectful act to the warder. Although in that situation Mandela could not do anything, he felt the guilty. Sometimes we as human being find ourselves in situation like this. And finally, when Mandela was on transition from prison to freedom, he insisted to wash dishes and undertake other activities that were supposed to be done by warders. This teaches us to be humble regardless of our status.

There are many lessons to learn from this book, and I ask you to read it- it’s fun and you will find yourself laughing…or crying at other times.

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