Friday, June 17, 2005

Bitterness Was Not In His Nature

I ran across this obituary in The Economist today.

Many American news networks interviewed Nelson Mandela when the South African government finally released him after decades in prison.

I don't remember much about the interviews I saw, but I do remember one comment Mandela made very clearly.

He became a close friend of the Afrikaaner head jailer on his cell block during his years of captivity. The interviewer asked him about that jailer.

Mandela said, "He was just the kind of man you would hope for in that role."

The kindness and forgiveness in those words struck me when I first heard them, and I often think of them when I need encouragement in my relationships with people who haven't treated me as well as I might have hoped.

The link here is a story about another black South African--Hamilton Naki--who was a medical pioneer and played a decisive role in the very first human heart transplant. He never got the eventual recognition Mandela enjoyed, but he had the same forgiving and life giving attitude.

The guy who wrote the article said of Naki, "bitterness was not in his nature."

Hmmm.... Seems like bitterness at injustice is in most people's nature.

When people overcome it something important--maybe even miraculous--is at play.

Take a look....


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Wordcat,

Thank you for highlighting this article. I appreciated it very much.

Sometimes I feel that in the desire to learn about justice we inadvertently teach our hearts to hold bitterness. (Or in our teaching about justice we instead give fuel toward the temption to be bitter) We focus more on what can be done to change situations rather than building the character to endure suffering.

Does being a champion of justice mean that we have created some great change in our society or does it also mean that we have released all bitterness from our nature? It would seem that the latter is closer to what we are compelled to by the example of Jesus and Paul and that the former is sometimes just an exercise in futility. In fact I feel that it is the latter that would motivate me most strongly to press on to have hope for justice and to stand firm in action regardless of what is happening around me.

wishing to remain anonymous

p.s. i have enjoyed your posts albeit only for a brief duration since i only found it a few weeks ago. this post was partly a vote for the good in blogging that i have seen here. unfortunately in my conflict about what i think about blogging i remained on the sidelines and not posted any comments until this point.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Thanks for your good thoughts anonymous.

I don't think being a champion of justice means we've brought about a great change in our society or that we've released all bitterness in our nature.

Perhaps neither of those are realistic goals in most people's lifetimes, at least from my point of view.

I think the release of bitterness is important and life giving. Whether anyone can release all of it is a question I don't have the confidence to answer.

I think seeking fairer social relationships is just as important.

I no longer feel comfortable drawing clear distinctions between the importance of personal piety on the one hand and social concern and action on the other.

That's a recipe for a potentially skewed faith, in my view.

Bitterness is not the same thing as anger at unfairness.

They may be hard to tell apart at times, but they are different.

Fundamentally bitter people can't produce really long lasting change. Anger at injustice, however, if joined with a constructively loving attitude, can.

In real life, though, people's hearts are a mixed bag. That's just a part of the picture if you're serious about trying to bring about important social change.

I don't mean to be irreverant, but if you read Paul's writings closely I think he's got some bitterness about some of his experiences. He was a human being, so I'm glad the Scripture records his frailty.

We're both on the same page in terms of motivation. I'm more drawn to an example like Mandela or Naki. The less bitterness the better.

10:35 PM  
Anonymous John Grabowski said...

Hi there. Saw the post about Hamilton Naki in your blog while doing a Yahoo search for more information about him. Just wanted to point out to you that shortly after The Economist printed that moving obituary they issued a retraction. Seems that the whole story was made up, Naki was never near the first heart transplant and he just evolved the whole story in his mind over the years. It makes a nice read, but it's totally untrue. Sad, because I had visions of turning it into a screenplay. :-)

5:52 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Ya, I read the retraction in The Economist. Sounds like he was a remarkable person who developed high level medical skills, but I was disappointed too that he didn't do what the article described.

8:17 PM  

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