December 8, 2013 ~ News as a “Spiritual Opportunity”


Sunday, December 8, 2013 ~
News as a “Spiritual Opportunity”

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”
~ Nelson Mandela

As the very term, ‘nonviolent’ — in the phrase nonviolent communication — connotes an activist’s engagement with the world-at-large, as seems intended and exemplified by its founder Marshall Rosenberg (then, at its inception, active in the civil rights movement while a part of an interracial marriage and continuing to bridge conflictual divides throughout the arc of his NVC travels) at times it behooves me to consider the extent to which NVC seems relegated moreso to the personal (read, ‘naval-gazing’) rather than serve as a catalyst towards the political (read, ‘taking on the world’).  There is similarly a sense in which a practitioner of NVC is confronted by the historic legacy of nonviolence more broadly, as embodied by some of the most iconic figures of this past century, and may then grapple with situating their practice within that larger, awe-inspiring framework.

This is one of those times…

“Religion is one of the most important forces in the world. Whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew, or a Hindu, religion is a great force, and it can help one have command of one’s own morality, one’s own behavior, and one’s own attitude.”
-Nelson Mandela

“The news should be a spiritual opportunity because we are confronted with images of suffering from all over the world like no other generation.” ~ Karen Armstrong

First Look: Why Karen Armstrong Says We Get “Compassion Fatigue”

FYI ~ Full Episode: Oprah and Karen Armstrong on the 12 Steps to Compassion

“It’s an extraordinary time. Now I feel so strongly that the people who are involved with spirituality — all of these things — we need to go — This can’t just be about crystals, and rainbows, and ‘la de da.’ We should be the last people sitting out the great social and political issues of our day, because if you know what changes a heart you know what changes a world.”  ~ Marianne Williamson


Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama
remember Nelson Mandela

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
— Nelson Mandela

The New York Times
December 5, 2013
Jason Holley

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” — Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Via:  What Nelson Mandela taught us about leadership

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
— Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom)

Kim Ludbrook/European Pressphoto Agency

“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” said Jacob Zuma, the South African president, about Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela’s Legacy: Full Coverage

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95

Nelson Mandela, who led the emancipation of South Africa from white minority rule and served as his country’s first black president, becoming an international emblem of dignity and forbearance, died Thursday night. He was 95… (continues)

Excerpted from NYT’s obit by Bill Keller
(author of  
Tree Shaker: The Story of Nelson Mandela)

Bill Keller on penning Nelson Mandela’s Obituary

BBC – History – Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

Obama: Nelson Mandela “belongs to the ages”

Nelson Mandela’s Life and Leadership

“There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
— Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela)

Remembering South African leader Nelson Mandela – PBS

The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela
Frontline program, PBS

A Tribute Poem for Nelson Mandela by Dr. Maya Angelou

Gandhi and Mandela –

“Such was the crucible that forged Gandhi and Mandela, captains of their souls who ceased to play the ruled and so captured the imagination of worlds they changed.”
~ Roger Cohen

In recent weeks (see: November 17, 2013 ~ NVC as “True But Partial”), I shared a bit about how apprehending Nelson Mandela’s leadership philosophy had influenced my own integration as a practitioner of Nonviolent Communication, i.e. that he, Nelson Mandela (according to biographer/friend Richard Stengel) had adopted and adapted the tactics of nonviolence on his own terms and in the service of his broader principle.  I’ve found it to be nearly impossible to learn NVC without simultaneously grappling with the historic legacy of nonviolence (and nonviolent consciousness) of whom Nelson Mandela’s existence certainly represents one of the most exemplary and iconic figures in our lifetime.  Not to mention someone more complex in his orientation to nonviolence than either the legacies of MLK or Gandhi (who are often referenced within the NVC community and who held nonviolence more as a life aspiration & principle than a tactic, as did Mandela).  Perhaps there is something in Mandela’s humility about his own flawed humanity, and his straightforwardness as to how he lived life, that resonates so deeply.  It is in witnessing his long walk of freedom that I can recognize a kind of dharma path, that it has been possible to draw wisdom, even solace from, in years past.

“I am the captain of my soul.”
— Nelson Mandela

Elie Wiesel on Mandela’s Nobel Peace Prize

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
— Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s legacy: As a leader, he was willing to use violence

By Robyn Dixon

Excerpt:  …The popular conception of Mandela as a saint, one he always debunked, ignores the moral struggle in the ANC that caused the movement to abandon nonviolence.

In a 1979 letter to his then-wife, Winnie, Mandela reflected ruefully on the contradictions in people’s lives, and what it is to be human and fallible. An excerpt appears in his last book, a collection of notes and writings, “Conversations with Myself.”

“Habits die hard and they leave their unmistakable marks, the invisible scars that are engraved in our bones and that flow in our blood, that do havoc to the principal actors beyond repair…. Such scars portray people as they are and bring out into the full glare of public scrutiny the embarrassing contradictions in which individuals live out their lives.

“We are told that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying to be clean. One may be a villain for three-quarters of his life and be canonized because he lived a holy life for the remaining quarter of that life.

“In real life we deal, not with gods, but with ordinary humans like ourselves: men and women who are full of contradictions, who are stable and fickle, strong and weak, famous and infamous, people in whose bloodstream the muckworm battles daily with potent pesticides.”

Article above, in its entirety:

Mandela “The World That Made Him”

More on Nelson Mandela as a complex icon of nonviolence (via  Democracy Now):

AMY GOODMAN: It was the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that picked up, or, I should say, that provided the information to the South African apartheid forces, where Mandela was, what he would be wearing, that he was going to be dressed as a chauffeur in a car. This was 1962 when they finally picked him up. The U.S. was devoting more resources to finding Mandela than even the apartheid regime was. What about the significance of that?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: You know, it’s interesting to me. In our last conversation about two years, I asked him about his being picked up. In some sense—in some senses, he said, he was glad. I didn’t understand that. He said that when—they tried the legal route, and they were rejected. They tried mass marches, they met Sharpeville massacre, and that was rejected. And they tried internal propaganda; that didn’t work. He finally became commander, along with Oliver Tambo, of the military forces. And they had been blowing up some railroads and some strategic infrastructure targets. They were about to escalate, move toward the hospitals and schools and the like. It was a really bloody warfare. And they caught him just a week before that was about to happen. He said he would rather have spent 27 years in jail than to have blown up those innocent people and have that blood on his hand. He was—he gave all that he had—his mind, his body and soul. But he is—in some sense, was glad he did not have on his hands the blood of those who would have been blown up had he not been stopped at that time. So, in some sense, maybe the implement of evil, but God meant it for good.

What Nelson Mandela can teach us all about violence

Rick Stengel on meeting Mandela

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he said. “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

~ Nelson Mandela

Via Richard Stengel’s book, Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage:

Excerpts from Chapter Six:
Have a Core Principle – Everything Else is Tactics

“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.  I know that seems like an exaggeration – but to a degree very few people suspect, Mandela is a thoroughgoing pragmatist who was willing to compromise, change, adapt, and refine his strategy as long as it got him to the promised land.  Almost any means justified that one noble end…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.  Over and over during the course of our time together, Mandela made a distinction between principles and tactics.  (Or principles and strategy – he used the words tactics and strategy interchangeably.)  This view evolved over his time in prison; the man who first went to jail was not nearly as strategic or tactical as the man who came out…After seeing the government’s consistent use of violence in repressing black protest, Mandela grew impatient with nonviolence.  He felt a though he was carrying a spear to a gunfight.  Finally, in 1961, Mandela journey to Natal to discuss a change of course with Chief Albert Luthuli, who was then the president of the ANC and who had won the Nobel  Peace Prize the year before for leading the nonviolent struggle against apartheid.  Mandela had immense respect for ‘the Chief,’ as he called him,  and I asked Mandela what was Luthuli’s response to the change in strategy.  ‘He of course opposed the decision because he was a man who believed in nonviolence as a principle,’ Mandela recalled.’  ‘Whereas I and others believed in nonviolence as a strategy, which could be changed at any time the conditions demanded it.  So that was the difference between us.’  Many of the Indian members of the ANC were adamant about not abandoning nonviolence.  Mandela recalled that J. N. Singh, the great Indian freedom fighter, fought the change.  ‘J. N. kept on saying, with great eloquence, ‘No, nonviolence has not failed us, we have failed nonviolence.’  And these slogans, you know, can be powerful.’  But for him, the opposition had become a slogan, not a principle.  In his hardheaded way, he had concluded that only a violent guerrilla movement had a chance of toppling apartheid.  ‘It is a question the conditions which prevail, whether you have to use peaceful methods or violent methods.  And that is determined purely by conditions,’ he told me.  Conditions plus principles determined strategy.  Mandela is not and never was a Gandhi, a man whose devotion to nonviolence was a life a principle that if violated would make the victory not worth having.  Yes, Mandela preferred nonviolence – and had a personal revulsion toward violence of any kind – but the policy of nonviolence was undermining the one overarching principle that he could never lose sight of…Once he had achieved his great goal of bringing constitutional democracy to South Africa, he embraced its corollary:  achieving racial harmony.  Everything else was subordinate to those overriding goals. When conditions change you must change your strategy and your mind.  That’s not indecisiveness, that’s pragmatism.”  (See also – Sharing ‘Mandela’s Way’ In Fifteen Lessons : NPR)

The Atlantic Online:
Mandela and the Question of Violence

Stengel’s Mandela obituary:
Nelson Mandela, 1918–2013: Remembering an Icon of Freedom

Mandela roundtable: A reporter, biographer and poet reflect

Bigger Than Bambi –

Published: December 14, 2013

WASHINGTON — I STARTED speaking truth to power early.

And my older brothers didn’t like it.

They told me that archness in a 10-year-old was not welcome.

I concocted a plan to prove how boring life would be if you were just nice all the time, how much more bracing it is to have sweetness laced with tartness.

I told them I would be very, very nice until they asked me to stop, certain that they’d get sick of saccharine and syrupy in short order.

Except they didn’t. They liked it.

After a week, I’d overdosed on sugar myself and gave up, going back to my old ways of being angelic or devilish, depending on the provocation.

Later, when I fell in love with Jonathan Swift, I felt gratified that I’d kept sardonic, that excellent arrow against oppressors, in the quiver.

So naturally, I’m intrigued with the literary donnybrook over niceness raging on the Internet, a place better known for nastiness… (continues)


“I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope.”
— Nelson Mandela

How Mandela tried to soothe the wounds of apartheid

Truth & Reconciliation Commission Video Collection – South Africa

Adam Sitze on Rethinking South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Civil rights leader John Lewis on Mandela’s achievements

Maya Angelou on why Mandela is admired

CS Monitor: Mandela: under gray skies, a vibrant celebration
of S. Africa’s Greatest Son

Three of Mandela’s grandchildren and one great-granddaughter made short speeches, describing their elder as “a giant tree that has fallen, scattering a thousand brilliant leaves.”

Charles M. Blow:  A Lesson Before Dying

One of the great lights of the world went dark on Thursday. Nelson Mandela left this world, having enormously altered it.

And yet, the extraordinary example that he set lives on and provides a lesson — a blueprint — for all of us who still labor for justice, equality and freedom.

Be convinced of your cause.

Globalization and Human Rights – Nicholas D. Kristof Blog

Mandela Lives:  My favorite fact about Nelson Mandela is that he invited one of his white jailers, who had helped imprison him for 27 years, to his inauguration as South Africa’s president. It was a sign of the magnanimity, warmth and absolute lack of vindictiveness that marked Mandela.

Kristof: Honoring Mandela

“Future elected presidents and prime ministers are sitting in jails of governments the U.S. is supporting with weapons,” notes Brian Dooley of Human Rights First.


Mandela’s legacy is one of freedom and tolerance. But some are now trampling on it.

Learning to Forgive

Africans were transformed by his time in prison.

Thomas L. Friedman: Why Mandela Was Unique

The global outpouring of respect for Nelson Mandela suggests that we’re not just saying goodbye to the man at his death but that we’re losing a certain kind of leader, unique on the world stage today, and we are mourning that just as much. Mandela had an extraordinary amount of “moral authority.” Why? And how did he get it?

Mandela memorial service: President Obama’s tribute

Mandela’s nine greatest moments captured on YouTube

Book Parties and Festivals – “After Mandela” – Book TV

And it’s not only those newsworthy figures, such as Nelson Mandela, whose very being may inspire courage and offer a touchstone as to the embodiment of dignity, even nobility, towards being vessels of our greatest selves.

 Even when it comes to more ‘hard-to-take-in’ narratives, the murder and mayhem can be viewed through a lens of gratitude and an empowered engagement, as co-authors Chris Johnstone and Joanna Macy depict in their book “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy“.

The Spiral theme: Coming from GratitudeHonoring Our Pain for the WorldSeeing with New Eyes & Going Forth in the quest to embody Active Hope
By Dori Midnight
By Dori Midnight

See also:

Active Hope

For example, rather than merely apprehending the human atrocities being committed, one might instead note that a journalist has been willing to risk his or her own safety, indeed their very lives, to report the facts on the ground, ensuring broader awareness and perhaps enlisting us, collectively, to reach a more constructive and humane outcome (as happened in South Africa:  NYT:  Divestment Was Just One Weapon in Battle Against Apartheid).

Nelson Mandela’s journey from fringes to mainstream | MSNBC

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” ~ Nelson Mandela

FYI  ~ Sanctions first passed by the UN Security Council in 1962

Dusty Springfield’s boycott of South Africa in 1964

Paul Simon Film –
“Under African Skies”

Paul Simon and Joe Berlinger on ‘Graceland’ Controversy and New Film

Via Wikipedia:  Negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa

“Apartheid was dismantled in a series of negotiations from 1990 to 1993, culminating in elections in 1994, the first in South Africa with universal suffrage.”

Rachel Maddow: How US disinvestment helped end apartheid

Nelson Mandela | Democracy Now!

Remembering Nelson Mandela: From Freedom Fighter to Political Prisoner to South African President

Randall Robinson on Nelson Mandela, U.S. Backing of Apartheid Regime & Success of Sanctions Movement

Filmmaker Danny Schechter: The Anti-Apartheid Movement Behind Mandela Can’t Be Forgotten

Polaroid & Apartheid: Inside the Beginnings of the Boycott, Divestment Movement Against South Africa

ALEC’s “Institutional Corruption,”
From Backing Apartheid to Assault on Clean Energy, Public Sector

Along with the dilemma of too infrequent news consumption,by kumbaya types, there is also the other end of the spectrum, political junkie-dom taking its toll on a fuller, richer existence.

How to strike that balance on the spectrum?

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom)

Via David Brooks – The New York Times:

The Stem and the Flower

December 2, 2013

The Stem and the Flower


In an a amazing public service, I have not written a column in three months. In the course of that time, I’ve stepped back from politics, a bit, and thought about other things. That naturally raises the question: How much emotional and psychic space should politics take up in a normal healthy brain?

Let’s use one of President Obama’s favorite rhetorical devices and frame the issue with the two extremes.

On the one hand, there are those who are completely cynical about politics. But, as the columnist Michael Gerson has put it, this sort of cynicism is the luxury of privileged people. If you live in a functioning society, you can say politicians are just a bunch of crooks. But, if you live in a place without rule of law, where a walk down a nighttime street can be terrifying, where tribalism leads to murder, you know that politics is a vital concern.

On the other hand, there are those who form their identity around politics and look to it to complete their natures. These overpoliticized people come in two forms: the aspirational and the tribal. The aspirational hope that politics can transform society and provide meaning. They were inspired by the lofty rhetoric of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address. The possibilities, he argued, were limitless: “Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty.”

The problem with this lofty rhetoric is that politics can rarely deliver, so there is a cynical backlash when the limited realities of government reassert themselves. This inevitable letdown is happening to a lot of President Obama’s supporters right now.

Then there are those who look to politics for identity. They treat their partisan affiliation as a form of ethnicity. These people drive a lot of talk radio and television. Not long ago, most intelligent television talk was not about politics. Shows would put interesting people together, like Woody Allen with Billy Graham (check it out on YouTube), and they’d discuss anything under the sun.

Now most TV and radio talk is minute political analysis, while talk of culture has shriveled. This change is driven by people who, absent other attachments, have fallen upon partisanship to give them a sense of righteousness and belonging.

This emotional addiction can lead to auto-hysteria.

So if politics should not be nothing in life, but not everything, what should it be? We should start by acknowledging that except for a few rare occasions — the Civil War, the Depression — government is a slow trudge, oriented around essential but mundane tasks.

Imagine you are going to a picnic. Government is properly in charge of maintaining the essential background order: making sure there is a park, that it is reasonably clean and safe, arranging public transportation so as many people as possible can get to it. But if you remember the picnic afterward, these things won’t be what you remember. You’ll remember the creative food, the interesting conversations and the fun activities.

Government is the hard work of creating a background order, but it is not the main substance of life. As Samuel Johnson famously put it, “How small, of all that human hearts endure,/That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.” Government can set the stage, but it can’t be the play… (continues here:  The Stem and the Flower)

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