Oprah: You just want your point of view to prevail. But a good leader always has the intention of making peace.
Nelson: That's true. When there is danger, a good leader takes the front line; but when there is celebration, a good leader stays in the back of the room.
Oprah: What characteristics do you most admire in those you respect?
Nelson: Sometimes a leader has to criticize those with whom he works—it cannot be avoided. I like a leader who can, while pointing out a mistake, bring up the good things the other person has done. If you do that, then the person sees that you have a complete picture of him. There is nobody more dangerous than one who has been humiliated, even when you humiliate him rightly.
Oprah: As I sit here and talk with you, I find it hard to imagine that you can be the man you are after spending all that time in a seven-by-nine-foot cell. When you went back to see the cell years later, could you believe it was that tiny?
Nelson: Back then I was used to it, and I could do all sorts of things in there, like exercise every morning and evening. But now that I'm on the outside, I don't know how we survived it—the space was so small.
Oprah: During the day, when you were forced to do hard labor in the lime quarries, you also had the chance to talk with your colleagues. But when I visited the prison I was told that at 4 P.M. each day, the cell doors were closed and you weren't allowed to speak.
Nelson: That's true, but we challenged that rule. The officers who were senior to the wardens treated them like vermin, but because we treated the wardens with respect, they helped us. Once the cells were locked and the senior officers went away, the wardens allowed us to do anything except open the cell doors, because they didn't have keys. They let us speak to those in the cells opposite us. As a result of the way we treated the wardens, they tended to become good people.
Oprah: Do you believe people are good at their core?
Nelson: There is no doubt whatsoever, provided you are able to arouse the goodness inherent in every human. Those of us in the fight against apartheid changed many people who hated us because they discovered that we respected them.
Oprah: How can you respect people who oppress you?
Nelson: You must understand that individuals get caught up in the policy of their country. In prison, for instance, a warden or officer is not promoted if he doesn't follow the policy of the government—though he himself does not believe in that policy.
Oprah: So you can change someone who is only carrying out a policy, since that person himself isn't the policy.
Nelson: Absolutely. When I went to jail, I was a trained lawyer. And when the wardens received letters of demands or summonses, they didn't have the resources to go to an attorney to help them. I would help them settle their cases, so they became attached to me and the other prisoners.
We Hear You!