Inspiration . . . From Prison

No, this is not about Brandon Hein, although he is one of the most inspiring people I know.  For over twelve years he has been in a California Level IV close custody (the highest security level of California prisons) cell block for a crime that nobody says he committed!  As his case has arduously woven its way through the maze of the so-called “justice system”, Brandon has kept his head about him and inspired thousands of his generation and others as well around the world.  He never sought this level of fame . . . or notoriety.  I had to talk long and hard to get him to go along with making him a “public figure” of sorts in an effort to secure justice and blasting his case onto the Internet.  Usually in prison it’s best to lay low and keep your case and life private, and not have Tom Hayden or “60 Minutes” and Dan Rather showing up to visit. I’m not sure Brandon, or I would agree that it was worth it: because he is still in prison, and it seems that most people really don’t care.  Certainly the Governor, who could pardon him today, doesn’t seem to care.  The judicial system seems happy to shuffle appeals and cash their various paychecks.  Maybe you don’t care either . . .  but you should!!  Because it could be YOU, or YOUR CHILD, or YOUR GRANDCHILD who is at the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up with life in prison without possibility of parole.

The German Pastor Martin Niemöller said,

“In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

So if you don’t know about Brandon Hein you should! And you should speak up . . .while you can.

No, this is not about Brandon, but it’s about Nelson Mandela, who is celebrating his 90th birthday. Mandela inspired a nation . . . and a world . . . from a prison cell in South Africa. Many would argue that he changed not only a nation, but also a world.   Mandela was in prison 27 years: Brandon has only been in prison 12 years.

TIME magazine has an article by Richard Stengel entitled, “Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership” that I find fascinating.

Mandela’s Eight:

No. 1 – Courage is not the absence of fear — it’s inspiring others to move beyond it.

Prisoners who were with him said watching Mandela walk across the courtyard, upright and proud, was enough to keep them going for days. He knew that he was a model for others, and that gave him the strength to triumph over his own fear.

No. 2 – Lead from the front — but don’t leave your base behind.

Prison gave him the ability to take the long view. It had to; there was no other view possible. He was thinking in terms of not days and weeks but decades. He knew history was on his side, that the result was inevitable; it was just a question of how soon and how it would be achieved.

No. 3 – Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.

Mandela loved to reminisce about his boyhood and his lazy afternoons herding cattle. “You know,” he would say, “you can only lead them from behind” . . . The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too. “It is wise,” he said, “to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.”

No. 4 – Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport

No. 5 – Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer

Mandela believed that embracing his rivals was a way of controlling them: they were more dangerous on their own than within his circle of influence. He cherished loyalty, but he was never obsessed by it. After all, he used to say, “people act in their own interest.” It was simply a fact of human nature, not a flaw or a defect. The flip side of being an optimist — and he is one — is trusting people too much. But Mandela recognized that the way to deal with those he didn’t trust was to neutralize them with charm.

No. 6 -Appearances matter — and remember to smile.

After he emerged from prison, people would say, over and over, It is amazing that he is not bitter. There are a thousand things Nelson Mandela was bitter about, but he knew that more than anything else, he had to project the exact opposite emotion. He always said, “Forget the past” — but I knew he never did.

No. 7 – Nothing is black or white.

Life is never either/or. Decisions are complex, and there are always competing factors. To look for simple explanations is the bias of the human brain, but it doesn’t correspond to reality. Nothing is ever as straightforward as it appears . . . Every problem has many causes . . . Mandela’s calculus was always, What is the end that I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?

No. 8 – Quitting is leading too.

Knowing how to abandon a failed idea, task or relationship is often the most difficult kind of decision a leader has to make. In many ways, Mandela’s greatest legacy as President of South Africa is the way he chose to leave it. When he was elected in 1994, Mandela probably could have pressed to be President for life — and there were many who felt that in return for his years in prison, that was the least South Africa could do.

In the history of Africa, there have been only a handful of democratically elected leaders who willingly stood down from office. Mandela was determined to set a precedent for all who followed him — not only in South Africa but across the rest of the continent . . .He knows that leaders lead as much by what they choose not to do as what they do.

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