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A Personal Selection of Nelson Mandela Best Quotes

Nelson Mandela is a clear example of an authentic ethical life. A person with integrity. He has been preaching by example. “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” What else can we add to these inspiring Mandela’s thoughts in a world in which ethics has become one of its major deficits.

Education for liberty is education for making decisions based on ethical reflection, on how those decisions will affect our own life, the life of our fellow humans and the life of the planet. Seventy-five quotes by Nelson Mandela that I selected to reflect my admiration for one of the most influential and exceptional human being in the Twentieth Century and beyond.

  1. “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” 
  2. “A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
  3. “A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones.”
  4. “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”
  5. “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
  6. “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
  7. “Appearances matter — and remember to smile.”
  8. “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”
  9. “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.”mandela-wisdom
  10. “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
  11. “Courage is not the absence of fear — it is inspiring others to move beyond it.”
  12. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
  13. “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
  14. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
  15. “For a revolution is not just a question of pulling a trigger; its purpose is to create a fair just society”
  16. “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.”
  17. “Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.”
  18. “He knew when to compromise. Yet he never compromised his principles. He was a militant. Yet a militant who knew how to plan, assess concrete situations and emerge with rational solutions to problems.”
  19. “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
  20. “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
  21. “I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope.”
  22. “I am the mater of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
  23. “I could not imagine that the future I was walking toward could compare in any way to the past that I was leaving behind.”
  24. “I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.”
  25. “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”
  26. “I have never cared very much for personal prizes. A person does not become a freedom fighter in the hope of winning awards.”
  27. “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”Mandela Freed
  28. “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.”
  29. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
  30. “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
  31. “In my country we go to prison first and then become President. “
  32. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
  33. “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
  34. “It is not where you start but how high you aim that matters for success.”
  35. “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
  36. “It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”
  37. “Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer.”
  38. “Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport.”
  39. “Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.”
  40. “Lead from the front — but don t leave your base behind.”
  41. “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.”
  42. “Money wont create success, the freedom to make it will.”
  43. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
  44. “No single person can liberate a country. You can only liberate a country if you act as a collective.”
  45. “Once a person is determined to help themselves, there is nothing that can stop them.”
  46. “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”
  47. “One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.”
  48. “Only free men can negotiate, prisoners can’t enter in contracts.”
  49. “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
  50. “Peace is the greatest weapon for development that any person can have.”
  51. “Quitting is leading too.”
  52. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
  53. “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that generation.”
  54. “Success in politics demands that you must take your people into confidence about your views and state them very clearly, very politely, very calmly, but nevertheless, state them openly.”
  55. “The brave man is not the one who has no fears, he is the one who triumphs over his fears.”
  56. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
  57. “There are few misfortunes in this world that you cannot turn into a personal triumph if you have the iron will and the necessary skill.”Poverty Nelson Mandela
  58. “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
  59. “There is a universal respect and even admiration for those who are humble and simple by nature, and who have absolute confidence in all human beings irrespective of their social status.”
  60. “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”
  61. “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
  62. “There is no such thing as part freedom.”
  63. “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
  64. “We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
  65. “We forgive but not forgotten.”
  66. “We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”
  67. “We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear.”
  68. “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
  69. “When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.”
  70. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”
  71. “Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs.”
  72. “You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.”
  73. “Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”
  74. “Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?”
  75. “Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.”


©2013 for the presentation. Images are public domain.


Quotes on Education

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