Here’s something you may not know about Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela Was A Hopeless Romantic
Besides being a freedom fighter and visionary leader, Madiba (Nelson Mandela’s tribal name) was also a starry-eyed Lover – with a capital L.
Married 3 times, his love for his 2nd wife, Winnie, got him through 27 years in prison.
From his prison cell on Robben Island, he wrote regularly to Winnie. In one letter he wrote:
“Your beautiful photo still stands about two feet above my left shoulder as I write this note. I dust it carefully every morning, for to do so gives me the pleasant feeling that I’m caressing you as in the old days. I even touch your nose with mine to recapture the electric current that used to flush through my blood whenever I did so.” – Nelson Mandela – April 15, 1976.
Electric current flushing through his blood? These are the poetic words of a man deeply in love.
In another letter to her, he wrote:
“Strength and supreme optimism runs through my blood because I know you love me.”
Madiba thrived on the strength and support that his relationship with Winnie gave him.
“Whenever I write you, I feel that inside physical warmth, that makes me forget all my problems. I become full of love.”
It appears that Nelson Mandela’s ability to make a difference in the world was grounded in the solidarity of his unbreakable bond with his wife.
“During the two decades I spent on Robben Island she was an indispensable pillar of support and comfort…”
– Nelson Mandela speaking of his second wife, Winnie
The Secret That Nelson Mandela Uncovered
Something else you may not know about Madiba is that he and Sir Richard Branson were remarkably close friends.
The two of them brought together the greatest peacemakers and social revolutionaries of our time to help solve global problems. They called this group The Elders.
My friend Jean Oelwang (CEO of Sir Richard’s global charity, Virgin Unite) told me a wonderful story about the times she spent working beside Madiba and The Elders at Sir Richard’s private Caribbean retreat, Necker Island.
Jean worked with The Elders to discover what they all had in common. After years of observing them, they could only find one thing that they agreed they all had in common.
It’s not what you may think:
The world’s greatest leaders
ALL had an extraordinary
romantic relationship with their spouse.
That’s it! That’s the only thing they found in common with each other.
I think not.
So, what is it about relationships that can spark such greatness in us?
For me, it’s that feeling of being INVINCIBLE that comes when I feel loved and supported unconditionally by my partner – who knows me inside out and accepts me warts and all (I have many, so this quite an accomplishment for my partner).
I know of no feeling more intoxicating than the warm gaze of my woman, her heart radiating love for me. I feel invincible with her by my side. I take leaps of faith I otherwise might not have the courage to take.
It is her unwavering emotional support that inspires me to keep striving, keep facing my fears and giving my gift to the world – even when the world tries to knock me down.
Perhaps you have also had one of these closely connected intimate moments with your spouse?
I think Nelson Mandela instinctively knew that his greatness was fueled by the quality of his relationship with his spouse…
…and at 80 years of age, he chose to marry again – this time to Graca Machel. He spoke similarly of his relationship with her:
“Late in life, I am blooming like a flower because of the love and support she has given me.”
– Nelson Mandela speaking of his third wife, Graca Machel
Nelson Mandela’s Super Power
I believe that Nelson Mandela’s superpower was not his endless empathy and compassion. It was his relationships.
Does your relationship give you the sense of support, security, and love that Madiba’s gave him? If not, perhaps it’s time to make some changes.
Far from being perfect, Madiba’s last two marriages stand as a testimonial to the power that a loving romantic relationship has to support us being the best we can be… or the worst we can be.
It’s up to you which you choose to express.
Madiba chose to wield that power to unite a nation.
Every day I work with couples in troubled marriages that are choosing to wield that power to wage war against each other. And each week I am moved to tears when one of those couples chooses Love instead of Fear.
Which will you choose? Love or fear?
Nelson chose to:
- love rather than fear
- forgive rather than hate
- reconcile rather than resent
- accept rather than make wrong
- share rather than hoard
- seek understanding rather than blindly judge.
As overwhelming as it may seem to try to live a life as principled as Madiba’s, you can start small with this simple idea:
You and I both have some of Madiba’s essence in us.
Whenever you’re in a tight spot or don’t know which choice to make, ask yourself this: “What would Madiba do?”
Try it. You’ll discover profound wisdom inside you that you may not have known was there.
To shining bright together.