Mandela Lectures Ariel Dorfman: The 8th Mandela Lecture

Ariel Dorfman: The 8th Mandela Lecture

 

I listened to and watched on TV, Ariel Dorfman delivering the eighth Mandela lecture and as he stood there with his papers in somewhat of a muddle so that he had to go back and forth in his lecture, he epitomised for me what I interpreted to be the message of his address: that is, that we are all human and that we should recognise first and foremost our common humanity.

For me the theme of his message was an old one, ‘love thine enemy as thyself.'  I think Jesus Christ first advocated it.  In more recent times Gandhi took up the theme.  In his satyagraha, nonviolent resistance, he was saying to the enemy you are human, and so are we, recognise your humanity and ours.  But he was assassinated.  Martin Luther King took up the cry and he too was assassinated. Albert Luthuli also advocated nonviolent resistance and he died under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

Then came Nelson Mandela for whom ‘love thine enemy' was not a matter of resistance, it was a matter of engagement.  And engagement means empathy.  In prison he befriended his warder, learned about him and shared with him.  In that way he showed him that he loved him and that turned enemy into friend.  Then in 1995 with the Rugby World Cup, Mandela became a rugby fan and when he appeared on the rugby field wearing a Springbok Jersey, he announced to the world, ‘I am an Afrikaner,' and he won the hearts of the nation. 

What Mandela did that was different from advocates of nonviolence was to empathise with the enemy by becoming like the enemy. Nonviolent resistance appeals to the enemy to stop and look at his monstrous behaviour and that only inflames the enemy and makes him more violent.  That is why nonviolent resistance does not work; it assumes an attitude of moral superiority over the enemy that enrages him and turns him into a monster that cannot be introspective.

Empathy is the basis of reconciliation and perhaps that is why the Truth and Reconciliation became problematic.  The emphasis there was not on empathy but on exposing wrongs.  There was no effective way in which enemies could meet each other.

In the two stories that Dorfman told to illustrate his lecture one emphasised the notion of empathy.  It was the story of a woman who honoured Pinochet and hated Allende and was in tears because Dorfman hated Pinochet and honoured Allende.  Dorfman empathised with this woman on the basis that her love for the dictator was as strong as his love for Allende.  She had found what was positive in Pinochet and what was negative in Allende.  And Dorfman could only see the negative in Pinochet and the positive in Allende.  What I made of this encounter is that the woman and Dorfman really wanted the same thing, the good life that each of the leaders had promised.  Once they can recognise their common need, they have a basis for reconciliation. As long as they keep focused on the hatred, they will not be able to meet each other. 

These two people must be able to embrace one another for what they believe in without reference to external influences.  Neither Pinochet nor Allende is relevant.  In turning leaders into heroes and following them blindly, we relinquish our independence and the right to make decisions.  Leaders, no matter how inspiring, are still human beings and their weaknesses must be recognised alongside their strengths.  And if we are to love our enemies, we need to recognise their strengths not only their weaknesses. That is what Mandela did.

In the second story, Dorfman tells of a man who kept Allende's portrait hidden for over twenty years after he had been deposed and only brought it out after Pinochet had been brought to trial for crimes against humanity.  The point of this story is that we not only have to recognise the positive but to keep it in our memories to inspire us through years of oppression and  help us  build a future in which our common humanity remains the focus of our interactions.

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