Jonathan Brun

Mandela and Rowling

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, “A Long Walk to Freedom“, is fantastic. Well written by Mandala and his associates, the book lays out the struggle for freedom in South Africa – it is a struggle that spanned 75 years and many sacrifices. Mandela himself is an amazing man by any standard. He grew up in a typical rural south african village where he was pegged as a future advisor to the local king. This privilege allowed him to pursue education and opportunities denied to nearly everyone else. Despite these benefits and apparent easy career path, he fled to Johannesburg to search for work. After struggles and help from various people, Mandela eventually entered the legal field and opened his own practice.

It could have stopped there, he could have comfortably rested on his practice, made a good living by African standards and turn a blind eye to the inequalities of the society around him. Instead, Mandela gave everything up – his practice, his family and his loyalties to fight for equality between whites and blacks. His struggle spanned four decades and culminated in the end of apartheid. His decision to use his privilege and status to help others, without hope for compensation, is what makes him stand apart. The noblest human action may be the personal sacrifice for others without expectation of compensation or recognition.

J.K. Rowling gave an amazing 2008 commencement speech at Harvard, where she says among other things,

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

If anything, that is the crux of Mandela – his ability to fight for others, to give his life for the benefit of his fellow citizens.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Published on February 3, 2010