Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


December 26, 2013

WE THE PEOPLE: To the spirit of things past

CROSSVILLE — This year, Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life on earth came to an end. Mandela, like Thomas Paine, understood that throwing off a powerful ruling class requires that many different people join together in a common effort. Not only did he encourage all of the disparate tribes living in South Africa to cooperate in the effort, but he invited the large Indian population to help, as well. And, of course, he reached out to the world.

Jesus made it rather clear that the powerful and wealthy are in a very precarious position, and that they should redistribute their riches to the poor. Jesus was no apologist for the ruling classes and religious interpreters of his day (the Sadducees and Pharisees). In the Sermon on the Mount (given in Matthew, echoed in Luke and backed in many places by the recently discovered Gospel of Thomas) Jesus indicated that the meek, the peacemakers and those who suffer injustice are blessed. He said we should “turn the other cheek” and “judge not lest we be judged.” Jesus said we should treat all people, even the alien Samaritans, as our neighbors and, of course, he proposed the Golden Rule as the most important summary of his moral philosophy. Naturally, the wealthy and powerful were not pleased.

In Apartheid South Africa, wealthy whites owned all of the means of production, as well as the government. Mandela knew that system was unjust and needed to be overturned. He also believed violence against people should be minimized during the struggle. His influence spread and the world began to notice the brutal nature of South African apartheid. Naturally, the wealthy and powerful were not pleased.

Mandela was imprisoned as the world watched with critical eyes. During his decades in prison, Nelson Mandela reached out to his jailers and worked patiently to consolidate and improve the human bonds in his prison community.

Eventually, the white apartheid government leaders realized that growing tension in South Africa was likely to explode. They also realized that only Mandela could smooth the situation.

Nelson helped negotiate the transition terms that prevented violent rebellion and brought about majority rule. Then, as the first president of the Republic of South Africa selected by all the people, Mandela (amazingly) set up “reconciliation councils” where former enemies (apartheid apparatchiks) were not accused and jailed, executed or banished. Instead, they were welcomed to tell their stories, meet their victims and be accepted as friends. The other cheek was turned.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others,” said Nelson Mandela.

How fortunate we are to live in a world that has visionaries like Mandela. We should all spend a moment reflecting on his proof that openness, dialogue, human justice (not retribution) and reconciliation can still be more powerful than modern well-armed police, prisons, bitter partisanship and divisive propaganda. For the People to triumph over oppressors, the old ways are still be effective.

As Mandela said, “It always seems impossible, until it’s done!”

Thank you for keeping hope alive, Nelson. Merry Christmas!

• • •

This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. “We the People” is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in “We the People” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, editor, at

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