Thursday, November 24, 2011
They that have power to hurt, and will do none
To celebrate November's being the National Reading Month ( and because the Kabataan party-list is exhorting everyone to pose with his favorite book to revitalize reading as a social activity), I am posing below with one of my favorite books: Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom.
The book had a huge impact on me, perhaps because I read it when I was fairly young (fourth year high school). I think the books you read when you were young have a tendency of becoming the most influential on you. Long Walk to Freedom was the book that first gave me a glimpse of public life, how politics could consume the life of one man, and how involvement in politics could transform the lives of other people for the better.
Fifteen years after reading this book, what I remember now were the scenes of daily humiliation Mandela was subjected to: being stripped naked, being taunted by ignorant prison authorities who were his social inferiors, the humiliatingly meager food rations. And Mandela hated them all. I remember reading there was one remarkably painful time when he promised to himself that one prison guard would be "as poor as a church mouse after I'm through with him."
And yet when Mandela became president, when he now had the opportunity to exact vengeance on that guard, he did not. As I grew older and as I have come to observe the behavior of other people, I realize that a modicum of power and authority can greatly change a man's behavior and personality. There are also other people who have all the appearance of virtue simply because they were never in a position of power to be otherwise. In college, I came across a beautiful phrase from Shakespeare's Sonnet 94: They that have power to hurt, and will do none. Yes, Nelson Mandela was one of those rare men.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It taught me the virtue of patience and waiting, and the necessity of magnanimity in politics. I consider this book one of my reading life's treasures.