One of my favourite biographies is the book “Knowing Mandela“.
Obviously Nelson Mandela is a great historical figure, but reading this book I realised that he was an exceptional man, with a depth of character that few in the world have possessed.
These are three qualities that Mandela had (that stood out to me, when I read the book), that we could all benefit from:
1. Integrity: He meant what he said, and he stood by it. Most people will readily abandon their commitments at the slightest inconvenience.
Mandela could have secured early release from prison by renouncing the anti-apartheid struggle. But he refused to do this.
2. Empathy: Mandela could have easily exacted bloody revenge on white South Africa, but he had the ability (that I think very few people in his position would have been able to), to put himself in their shoes and understand their hopes and fears.
When the far right leader General Viljoen met with Mandela, Mandela spoke in Afrikaans and showed him that he understood their world view (Not that he agreed with it).
Viljoen laid down his arms based on Mandela’s “decency and politeness”.
3. He treated everyone with respect: My favourite story in the book is this one:
One day, when a meeting with Buthalezi dragged on into the early morning, he held a press conference. He apologised for the lateness, and leant over to a journalist he knew and said “Debora, I am most concerned. Have you eaten?”