Inspiration from Nelson Mandela

Jennifer Goldman

Graduate fellow at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and a graduate student at the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: I would start with the Nelson Mandela case. And all these ideas have just been forming for me in my head, so I haven't been working on this for that long. I also don't know that much about Nelson Mandela; I'm only halfway through his autobiography. He was consistently humiliated by prison guards, who would treat their prisoners like cattle during Apartheid in South Africa. There is one story that he writes about where he basically I can't remember what the reason was why he thought that if he didn't do what they told him to do, they wouldn't hurt him. I think that's kind of the crux of the story; he felt confident in not obeying their orders. I think they had been saying, "Hurry up," or "Move more quickly," and they used a word to say that that people in South Africa use for cattle. It's just a very derogatory, horrible, humiliating experience with this word that they used and the way that they were acting. He just didn't do what they said and continued to walk at the pace that he was walking. He was walking with a friend of his and had this fierce inner determination to overcome and not really listen to them just know that they were there, but to keep doing his thing. Maybe it's because he just wasn't reacting to them at all, he wasn't doing anything differently than he was doing before they said the derogatory statement. So I think this is a small story of his that encapsulates his whole approach and just the way that he was being. It's not even so much that he did or didn't do something as much as the way that he was able to be himself in this humiliating situation.

Q: Almost refusing to be humiliated by the humiliating situation.

A: Right, exactly, which is completely different from people who experience a humiliating event and take it to the other extreme of taking it in and stewing on it and letting it gnaw at them and eat them away, and then acting aggressively based on it.

Q: Really internalizing the humiliation and then externalizing it later, likely destructively but possibly constructively I suppose.

A: Right, which would be the shame and the anger pieces.