Daily Meditations – Stoic Quotes from Nelson Mandela

Iconic picture of Nelson Mandela and François Pienaar by Jean-Pierre Muller at the 1995 Rugby World Cup

To jump straight to the quotes and their rendering, go down to ‘Meditating to Mandela’ quotes.’

– –

One of the popular things about Nelson Mandela on the internet is the question on his faith. Was he Christian or not?

The other popular thing is his favourite line: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” It is a line from the Stoic Victorian Poem ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley.

‘Invictus’ was even named a movie in which Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela. It is a biographical sports film about events leading to the 1995 Rugby World Cup, after South Africa returned to competing internationally due to apartheid being ended and Nelson Mandela elected the first democratic President of the country. South African won that World Cup (Yey!!).

Although Mandela was brought up in a Christian home – he was a card-carrying member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) in his youth, it is not clear whether he identified as Christian or not in his later life.

Nonetheless, he kept close relations with the MCSA and the South African faith communities in general.

I care not whether he was Christian or not – religious or not. To me, he was religious in liberating South Africa from the apartheid government.

Mandela’s stoicism

It is said nowhere that Mandela was a stoic. Therefore, please don’t be an asshole and say I am trying to give an impression that Nelson Mandela was a Stoic.

To me, as someone who gets benefit from the Stoic Philosophy, Nelson Mandela gave some stoic quotes that one can meditate on frequently.

In Prison, he apparently was sneaked-in a copy (and read) of Marcus Aurelius’s ‘Meditations’ – A popular book on the Roman emperor’s private notes to himself and his ideas on the Stoic Philosophy.

Briefly, what Stoicism is about

To give a context of why I say Nelson Mandela gave some stoic quotes, let me first define stoicism.

No, stoicism isn’t about doing or feeling nothing about everything and anything.

Stoicism is a simple and beneficial telling philosophy that one can meditate on daily. A simple and telling example is this quote: “If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it” (Marcus Aurelius in his book ‘Meditations’).

Stoicism is a reminder to practice virtue – as virtue can’t be lived in words alone but with action. It is a reminder to try at all times to be our best and not be affected by events in life adversely. The good and the bad occur all times, and will keep happening. We can become lost if we go with the hype of ‘good and bad’ every time. Therefore, we ought to meditate on managing our reactions, as this is what hurts us most of the time.

Meditating to Mandela’ quotes

“… at least, if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you”

This man was jailed and he chose to see the good that can be achieved in him.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

Fears try to jail us. Freedom is giving light to our darkness and acting out our hopeful choices.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Conquering fear gives fuel to our hopes.

“You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative factors in your life, but the tenth attempt may reap rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner that keeps on trying.”

“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up” – Nelson Mandela.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Hate imprisons the light that we otherwise can be to our loved ones.

 “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

Thus poisoning your loved ones. Our energies rub off onto those with whom we keep close relations.

 “One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.”

Many people direct blame at others and the world, and never at themselves. If you cannot notice your flaws, you cannot improve and communicate with the flawed.

– –

Nelson Mandela was a South African freedom fighter, a political prisoner for 27 years, and South Africa’s first democratically elected President – ending the rule of the tyrannical Apartheid government.

– –

Here goes the Invictus poem by William Ernest Henley, Nelson Mandela’s favourite

“Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”