In honor or Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, 2017, I am posting this excerpt from Resetting Respect. Respect was a key factor in all their lives.
Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and first black president of South Africa.
The other evening I watched Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s 2009 movie in which Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, who was elected to that position in 1994. Previously Mandela had spent 27 years as a political prisoner for opposing South Africa’s white minority government and it’s policy of apartheid.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and was very impressed by Freeman’s portrayal of Mandela. I was struck by the self-respect that Freeman’s Mandela exuded, a self-respect that allowed him to interact comfortably with blacks and whites alike, a self-respect that allowed him to be a comfortable man among the people as well as a strong authority figure. I wondered if this was Freeman’s idea of Mandela, or whether the real Mandela conveyed that same self-respect and comfort with himself. So I Googled and YouTubed “Mandela,” and sure enough. The video clips of him over the years showed a man comfortable with himself and with others, a man with considerable self-respect and pride as well as respect for all those around him.
As I was reading about Nelson Mandela, the names Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., came up repeatedly. I searched for film clips of Gandhi and King, and they, too, each exhibited a similar presence, a similar sense of self-respect.
As I browsed from site to site, I was struck by several similarities in the lives of these great men. All three were key leaders of civil rights movements in their respective countries. All three were advocates of nonviolent civil disobedience as the best way for their people to obtain civil rights and freedom. All three were nominated for or awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And all three are among the most respected and revered leaders of the 20th Century.
I was curious about how these three men came to be the men they were, with their similar beliefs and strengths and self-respect, and whether there were similarities in their early lives that had influenced who they became. I spent some more time researching Gandhi, Mandela, and King, Jr., and found a pattern that ran among the early lives of all three. They were born into middle-class families that emphasized religion and morality. They were raised with a sense of self-worth and pride. As young men they all experienced affronts to their dignity. And then, throughout their lives, they worked tirelessly for and won respect and civil rights for their people.
There were many takeaways for me from my brief immersion in and study of these three impressive lives. Respect begets respect. A healthy self-respect leads to valuing and hence respect for others. An early environment of respect, self-worth, and morality can lead to a lifelong attitude and style. A respectful approach to people and problems can change the world!