Virtually every article I see or read about Mandela highlights the fact that the guy spent 27 years in jail and then forgave everyone who had hurt him. Which I find odd.
There are a surprising number of people who have been in jail for a loooooooong time. So there are also hundreds of guys who have been set free after many years in jail. And if you’ve followed any of the Innocence Project cases (people proven innocent by DNA evidence and released after many years in jail for crimes they did not commit.)
Almost every one of these guys I’ve ever heard interviewed is remarkably loving and serene. Almost to a man they have none of the rancor or simmering rage you’d expect.
Here’s my point: I’m not sure that showing forgiveness after 27 years in jail is extraordinary. In fact, it’s probably rather ordinary under the circumstances. It may be that people who survive a long stretch without going nuts simply -must- forgive. Holding a grudge may not be compatible.
So that leaves the question: Is it cause or effect? IOW: Do people survive 27 years in jail because they learned to forgive, or is it that only people with the innate capacity for forgiveness survive that kind of hardship?
By making Mandela’s survival so extraordinary it kind of diminishes what lots of people endure and puts the focus on the wrong thing. He’s far from the only one (sad to say.) Saying so doesn’t diminish his greatness. It’s just that his unique qualities aren’t primarily defined by his capacity to forgive.
I would hope that when we think of Mandela we also recognise that there are hundreds of people who go unrecognised, who have suffered in that way… and what that says about forgiveness as a part of survival.