I just finished reading “Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage” by Richard Stengel.
Early on in the book, Stengel says something that stayed with me through the entirety of the read…
“Nelson Mandela had many teachers in his life, but the greatest of them all was prison.”
WHOA! Prison? Twenty-seven years of “life” behind bars, enduring inhumane treatment, separated from family, stuck in a cell much smaller than the average small bathroom we are used to? And this is the “greatest teacher”?
Well, as the story unfolded I came to realize that Stengel was right. Mandela went into prison a young, passionate, angry and unbridled man. He came out, in his own words, “mature.”
As I thought about this I think a couple of things are worth mentioning:
- Every person will go through a “prison” experience in his/her life.
- Not everyone will make it. Many will succumb to the intense pressure and break. Many will believe the lies they are told in the “prison”. Many will settle in and stay there… learning how to manage the pain.
- Some though will outlast the “prison” experience and be bigger with greater influence because of it!
Consider this… who is Nelson Mandela without the prison experience? Very possibly just another in a long list of martyred revolutionaries faded into history… nameless… without a legacy.
Mandela looked back on his prison experience as the maturing point of his life. Of course while going through the experience there was pain… anger… disappointment… but not a loss of hope.
A couple of thoughts…
- Don’t lose hope during your “prison” experience. Instead begin searching for ways to allow it to refine and mature you! (e.g. develop new ways to deal with disappointment, discover positive ways to treat those who mistreat you, etc.)
- Remember this, you can give up and stay in “prison” or you can learn and prepare for the day you leave “prison”… and that day will come… sooner or later.
- When you leave your “prison”… your experiences in that time/place and the maturity you gain will give you a platform from which to speak with authority. Mr. Mandela can speak with authority about love, forgiveness, and unity because he has lived it… in the worst of times and places… prison!
In “prison”? Don’t discount what this time and experience will do for your future… if you decide to allow it.