John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Life Lesson Rarely Heeded: Nelson Mandela Turned the Other Cheek

Posted on December 6, 2013

Politics, especially American politics, is all about an eye for eye.

Actually American politics has evolved into one long episode of The Untouchable.  In that movie Sean Connery's character taught about the Chicago way.   They put one of yours in the hospital, we put one of theirs in the morgue.

The problem with that kind of politics is that it breeds division and strife.  If political leaders focus only on their grudges, they forget to do their jobs of delivering for their constituents.

Nelson Mandela is perhaps the best example of what happens when a political leader channels his inner New Testament.   He turned the other cheek, and by doing so, he helped lead his country to a better place.

His is not the only example of this.   Martin McGuinness, the former general in the Irish Republican Army, has worked well with the Peter Robinson, the leader of the Protestant Majority in Northern Ireland, to help move Northern Ireland to a new and better reality in the era since the Good Friday accords. They have worked well by focusing not on their grudges but on their action items.   How do they deliver for their constituents?

Things are not perfect in South Africa.   Crime is rampant and all-consuming.  He South African white minority is probably the best armed private citizenry in the world and for good reason.   Income inequality in the country makes America's middle class look robust and healthy in comparison.

But just because things aren't perfect shouldn't take away from Mandela's achievement.  He unified a nation without force and without a bloody civil war and by not holding on to his grudges.  He turned the other cheek, and by doing so, he showed incredible strength.

It is a life lesson that should be heeded by American politicians, who so often hold on to their grudges to prove a point to their political bases.  And there are ample reasons to have those grudges.  Political campaigns are bruising affairs, and sometimes people get screwed in the process.

But at the end of the day, as Mandela taught us with his example, you have to make things work.

When I was in college, I wasn't sure about Nelson Mandela.  I was worried that revolution would destroy that country, and that he couldn't be trusted.   I was wrong.  He proved to be a rare historic figure who could not only inspire his political base, but also inspire the world.