Mandela: An Emotionally Intelligent Giant

MandelaStampThis week’s blog was supposed to be Part 2 of last week’s “The Emotionally Intelligent Brain, Part 1.”  However because of the passing of a historic man, I decided to digress for one week.

Nelson Mandela’s greatness was of historic proportions. He was also—in my humble opinion—emotionally intelligent. Now mind you, I do not believe that all great people are emotionally intelligent. Steve Jobs was a great man. He changed the world. I am not sure if we could say that he was emotionally intelligent—ask his employees. Nelson Mandela was.

In a previous blog (November 11th) entitled “Emotional Intelligence (EI) in Three-D: Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion,” I introduced the Interpersonal Triangle and what I consider the three dimensions of emotional intelligence (EI). The basis of my book, Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst, is that Dorothy’s three companions represent the three dimensions of the interpersonal world:

  • Courageous Lion represents the Power or “Self “dimension (Moving-Against)
  • Heart-filled Tin Man represents the Love or “Other” dimension (Moving-Toward)
  • Thoughtful Scarecrow represents the Knowing or “Mindfulness” Dimension (Moving-Away)

InterpersonalTriangleAs far as the Interpersonal Triangle describes EI, the premise is simple: When we relate to others—and the world in general—in the positive expressions of all three dimensions, in dynamic balance, then we are at that moment emotionally intelligent. If we get out of balance, unable to function positively in any one (of the three) dimensions we become lopsided and emotionally “unintelligent.”

Mandela and Dorothy have much in common. Mandela and the people of South Africa were under the dominion of the wicked Apartheid regime.  At first the people of South Africa—and Mandela himself—understandably reacted to this regime in one or all of the following ways:

  • Negative Tin Man: they were frozen in fear, like Tin Man in the forest, immobilized and compliant
  • Negative Scarecrow, detached, indecisive and ineffective in the cornfield
  • Negative RED Lion, violent and angry

By the end of the story, Dorothy pulled her inner Team together and with equanimity was able to move fluidly in all three dimensions so that she could eventually melt the Wicked Witch of the West. Tin Man was no longer frozen, but with some oil was able to move with passion and compassion steadfast in the mission.  Scarecrow was no longer ineffective and indecisive. When he found his knowing, he was able to mindfully and persistently see how to move forward with self-control and wisdom. And yes, Lion (finally) found his nerve and was willing to march into hell (the castle) for a heavenly cause to face the most dangerous witch. This, my friend, was Nelson Mandela. Mandela eventually and consistently pulled together his inner Team—like Dorothy—to melt the wicked regime of Apartheid. This is why we love and admire this giant of a man.

With notable equanimity, Mandela lived and functioned in the positive aspects of all three dimensions:

  • Courageous Lion: He spoke truth to “Power” (not unlike Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King). And what courage he exhibited, to confront the green-faced hag of Apartheid and then survive an oppressive and impossibly prolonged imprisonment!
  • Heart-filled Tin Man: His compassion for his people and his passion for the mission was unshakeable. His life was a life of service. But the thing that I admire most about Mandela was his capacity for forgiveness. He was once asked if he forgave his jailers who brutalized him for nearly 3 decades.  His response was profound.  He said that he was their prisoner for 27 years and if he did not forgive them he would still be their prisoner.
  • Mindful Scarecrow: He was a man of patience and self-control. Prison allegedly taught him the benefits of silence and solitude, attributes of mindfulness. One of the sub-categories of EI is what is called “political savvy.” Mandela had political savvy. He knew when to fight (Lion) and when to forgive (Tin Man).

His ability to move freely and dynamically in all three dimensions is why I consider him a notably emotionally intelligent person and a model and inspiration for all of us—on whatever stage we live out our personal and work lives. Emotional intelligence is an intelligence that he lived by. South Africa is grateful; the World is grateful. Rest in Peace.

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3 comments
  1. Lynda Zimmerman said:

    A very creative, insightful discussion, linking Mandela with Dorothy and the 3 facets of emotional intelligence…A wonderful way to commemorate Mandela and the heroic life he lived.

  2. Dr. Sam said:

    It is interesting that you use the word “hero.” Joseph Campbell submits that the Wizard of Oz mythology is a great example of the hero’s story. Dorothy is the hero of her journey and no doubt Mandela was the hero for South Africa.

  3. Excellent, Sam. Thank you! Merry Christmas, Blake

    Blake Boyd 310.926.0291

    >

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