January 17, 2005

Learning What it Means to be a Good Human Being

Digby has a wonderful piece today about a off-the-kuff speech by Bill Clinton on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. As Digby says, Clinton's remarks were very inspiring. One of the best points in my mind concerned Clinton's memory of talking with Nelson Mandela.

There are very few saints (people who live as Jesus lived) because it is so hard to really follow his example. One of the radical statements Jesus espoused was that if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. Do not seek revenge. Very few people have found the capacity to do this. Yet Nelson Mandela is one. Here's what Clinton said:

And the last thing I learned from them on which all these other things depend, without which we cannot build a world of peace or one America in an increasingly peaceful world bound together in this web of mutuality, is that you can't get there unless you're willing to forgive your enemies. I never will forget one of the most -- I don't think I have ever spoken about this in public before -- but one of the most meaningful personal moments I have had as President was a conversation I had with Nelson Mandela.

And I said to him -- I said: "You know, I have read your book, and I have heard you speak.

And you spent time with my wife and daughter, and you have talked about inviting your jailers to your inauguration." And I said, "It's very moving." And I said: "You're a shrewd as well as a great man. But come on now, how did you really do that? You can't make me believe you didn't hate those people who did that to you for 27 years?"

He said, "I did hate them for quite a long time. After all, they abused me physically and emotionally. They separated me from my wife, and it eventually broke my family up. They kept me from seeing my children grow up." He said, "For quite a long time, I hated them."

And then he said: "I realized one day, breaking rocks, that they could take everything away from me, everything, but my mind and heart. Now, those things I would have to give away, and I simply decided I would not give them away."

Mandela came to understand that by hating his tormentors, he was giving them power over his reactions. It was only when he chose how he would respond to that situation, was he able to have control over himself. By choosing not to let anger and hatred rule his life, he refused to let their behavior rule his. And I assert that this lesson is one of the greatest challenges in becoming a truly ethical human being.

The pacifist ethic to bear insults without complaint and to turn the other cheek is related to the ethic to love one's enemy. Here the emphasis is as much on the individual's internal attitude as it is upon the other's welfare. If a person responds to evil in anger or self- defense, he becomes attached to the evil and it can dominate him. The anger and hatred of his attacker is transmuted into his own anger and resentment at being a victim, and he loses his balance and spiritual strength. But by bearing and accepting insults and abuse without diminution of his own goodwill and mental concentration, he can stay above the hatred and preserve a foundation of spiritual independence and self-possession. Ultimately, it is only by preserving his spiritual subjectivity in the midst of the insults that a person can have the strength to love his enemy and win him over.

Posted by Mary at January 17, 2005 11:43 PM | Philosophy | Technorati links |

That's beautful and beautifully said. Thank you.

Posted by: Deborah White at January 18, 2005 06:53 PM

Beautiful, Natasha. Lovely. I read a part of Clinton's 1998 speech quoted on another blog today. But, reading the complete speech was inspiring. Thank you.

I cannot build upon Bill Clinton's most venerable expressions, living in a world dominated by that ass, George Bush and his ass-sociates, Rice, Rumsfailed, Cheney and Neo-con hawk-ilk.


Clinton did well between 1992 and 2000. 'No good deed should be left unpunished', must be a Bush motto. The United States, nay, the world is sickened, diseased, polluted by George Walker Bush and company. Is this war?

Posted by: Artie at January 18, 2005 11:20 PM