Oprah: It's hard to imagine a world where you're not allowed to see, touch, or hold your own children. Was that your greatest loss?

Nelson Mandela: Absolutely.

Oprah: What else did you miss?

Nelson Mandela: My family, of course. And I missed my people. In many respects, people on the outside suffered more than those of us in jail. In prison, we ate three times a day, we had clothing, we had free medical services, and we could sleep for 12 hours. Others did not enjoy these things.

Oprah: Did you feel disconnected from the world?

Nelson Mandela: We had our ways of communicating with the outside. And though we would get the news two or three days after it had happened, we still got it. Because we became friendly with certain wardens, we'd ask them, "Can't you take us to the rubbish dump?" Newspapers were dumped there, and we'd clean them off, hide them, and take them back to our cells to read.

Oprah: You became even more disciplined in prison than you had been before, studying regularly and encouraging your colleagues to study. Why?

Nelson Mandela: No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated. Any nation that is progressive is led by people who have had the privilege of studying. I knew we could improve our lives even in jail. We could come out as different men, and we could even come out with two degrees. Educating ourselves was a way to give ourselves the most powerful weapon for freedom.

Oprah: Did you come out a wiser man?

Nelson Mandela: All I can say is that I was less foolish than I was when I went in. I equipped myself by reading literature, especially classic novels such as The Grapes of Wrath.

Oprah: That's one of my favorite books.

Nelson Mandela: When I closed that book, I was a different man. It enriched my powers of thinking and discipline, and my relationships. I left prison more informed than when I went in. And the more informed you are, the less arrogant and aggressive you are.

Oprah: Do you disdain arrogance?

Nelson Mandela: Of course. In my younger days, I was arrogant—jail helped me to get rid of it. I did nothing but make enemies because of my arrogance.

Oprah: What other characteristics do you abhor?

Nelson Mandela: Ignorance—and a person's inability to see what unites us instead of only those things that divide us. A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don't have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.

Next: What it takes to be a great leader


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