Nelson Mandela – 95 words on the complexity of righteousness.

Mandela strove for nonviolence, yet when forced, resisted violently. He refused to renounce the right of the oppressed to violent resistance, yet after being released from prison, Mandela worked closely with former enemies. His work was fundamentally political, both radical and practical. We should be made uncomfortable by Mandela’s example – not just celebrate it, but study it. We make assumptions, and cherry-pick, and want to file off edges we don’t like, but the work of the righteous should always make us uncomfortable.

Nelson Mandela זצ”ל – may the memory of the righteous be a blessing.


  1. Emily, I’ve followed your writing for a while now and was saddened by your last post when you decided to stop writing here! Glad to see you back!

    • Probably only for today, but I’ve been so frustrated by all the efforts to make a great man fit narrow visions – I was glad to have a place to write it down! Thank you.

  2. I’m glad you’re back, too, even if it is an isolated case on a sad occasion.

  3. I think it is true that each of us files off the edges of everything. It is how we are able to convince ourselves that our cause is just and righteous, that our view true and worthwhile. The inconsistencies and compromises we make, in life, in love, in family, in parenting, in how we worship, in who we trust, define us more than they define other things. People are fitting him into the boxes they have constructed for themselves, to meet their expectations of what he represented. The unpleasant bits, the inconsistencies… these will be glossed over. We pare down our heroes until they mere caricatures of their true selves. It has always been thus.

  4. Reblogged this on connectlondon.

  5. Thank you for adding this to our public discourse around this — I am really glad to have read it today.

    Shabbat shalom to you and yours.

    • I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how religion should make us uncomfortable, and yesterday it just really struck me that a righteous life — not a perfect life, not a flawless life, because Mandela was the first to say that his life had been neither, but a righteous life — should do likewise. We should be challenged.

  6. Reblogged this at

  7. Just ran across this via Twitter:

    Mandela’s Paradoxes Made His Journey Even Greater

  8. One could argue that Mandela simplified (“reduced” the complexity of) the political situation in South Africa by breaking established conventions and reshaping political linkages.

  1. Mandela and the Complexity of Righteousness | Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog
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