This chapter Mandela titles “Talking with the enemy.” Indeed, the ruling National Party was starting to realize that majority rule was inevitable. They were coming under increasing political and financial pressure, new sanctions were imposed by the UN, US, and other countries, more companies closed their operations in South Africa, banks and investors decreased their holdings in the country, ANC acts of sabotage increased, protests and riots and bloodshed on both sides kept increasing, the days of apartheid were numbered. […]
Prison made Mandela a living martyr. Mandela had the good fortune to be the first military director of the ANC just as it started its campaign of sabotage, which meant he was that rarest of generals, the general who had no blood on his hands. His blood free hands allowed him to successfully make the transition to majority rule after apartheid was abandoned.
Mandela was a stoic. He echoes Epictetus when he writes, “prison and the authorities conspire to rob each man of his dignity. No man or institution can rob me of my dignity because I refuse to part with it for any price or pressure. I never seriously considered the possibility that I would not emerge from prison one day.” […]
What is our most precious possession? “A virtuous way of life, conforming to God’s will, surpasses all wealth. When you reflect on this and keep in your mind constantly, you will not grumble, whine or blame anyone, but will thank God for everything, seeing that those who rely on repute and riches are worse off than yourself.”(4) “The more frugal a man’s life, the happier he is, for he is not troubled by a host of cares.” We should seek the prosperity that fills our soul rather than our pocket, for chasing after new cars and castles and country clubs will only add to the cares of this world. Should we pray to God to fill our pockets, and should we complain to God when our pockets are not filled, complaining how our prayers are never answered? Should our prayers be a shopping list we hand to God? Thieves can steal our wealth, but never our virtue. Here the Philokalia teaches that we should never consider it a loss when we lose our children, our money, or our possessions, but be thankful for all the God has loaned to us for our use, realizing it could be taken away at any time. […]
Seneca tells us that “we Stoics believe that pleasure is a vice.” Like the Church Fathers, Seneca reminds us that we need to overcome many years past of bad habits with many future years of living a godly life. “We are fettered and weakened by many vices; we have wallowed in them for a long time and it is hard for us to be cleansed.”
Seneca asks, “Why does folly hold us with such an insistent grasp? Primarily because we do not combat our vices strongly enough, we do not struggle towards salvation with all our might, we do not trust and drink in the words of the wise with open hearts,” we are not serious in our struggle against our vices, our efforts at living a godly life are but trifles. […]
Seneca warns us not “to trust the countenances of those whom we meet.” Men may appear to be kind smiling kind in their appearances but often men possess souls of brutal beasts in their hearts. The difference is beasts may attack you when they first encounter you from fear or hunger, but once your paths depart beasts will usually not pursue you further. Men, however, scheme and often delight in destroying one another, making each other’s lives miserable. […]
Seneca says, “Let us avoid being ungrateful, not for the sake of others but for our own sakes.” Likewise, Seneca warns, “evil drinks the largest portion of her own poison.” “When we do wrong, only the least portion flows back upon our neighbor, the worst and densest portion blows back, troubling us instead.” “The ungrateful man tortures and torments himself; he hates his gifts for he must return the favor, he tries to belittle their value, but when he does this he hurts himself instead. What is more wretched than the man who forgets his benefits and clings to his injuries?” […]
What distinguishes the virtuous soul? Seneca says It is “the soul that penetrates the whole world and directs it contemplating gaze upon all its Phenomena, paying strict attention to thoughts and actions, rising above both hardships and flatteries, yielding neither to poverty nor to fortune, rising above all tribulations and blessings, absolutely beautiful, perfectly equipped with grace and strength, unruffled, never dismayed, unmoved by violence, neither exalted or depressed by chance events – a soul like this is virtue itself.” Virtue is not like the house built on sand that is swept away by the first storm, virtue is the house built on the rocks, the house that stands firm against the waves and the storms that crash against the rocks, this house is never moved. Seneca lists the other virtues, “tranquility, simplicity, generosity, constancy, equanimity, endurance.” […]
If Seneca would be writing today, perhaps he would title this essay, Encouragements to the Budding Blogger. It is good to read the works of wise men, Seneca says, but men long dead cannot think for you, you need to think for yourself, reading the classics for inspiration, not duplication. Seneca advises us, “Take command, and utter some word prosperity will remember.” Why only memorize maxims from dusty tomes? Make some maxims yourself. It is one thing to remember maxims, quite another to know the true meaning of the maxims. […]
Philosophy is the study of wisdom, for as Seneca writes, “no man can live a happy life without the study of wisdom,” and “life is endurable even when we first begin our study of wisdom.” You must study philosophy every day, “you must persevere, you must develop new strength by continuous study, until that which is only a good inclination becomes a good habit.” “Philosophy molds and constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone; philosophy sits at the helm of our ship and directs our course as we waver amid the uncertainties of life. Without philosophy, no one can live fearlessly or in peace of mind. Countless occurrences every hour call for advice, and such advice is to be found in philosophy.” […]
Seneca discusses our most precious possession, our possession that we can never really possess, that continually slips through our fingers, the loan we can never repay, the gift we waste through carelessness, the treasure we should not waste, our most precious possession, time.
Seneca asks, “What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. What years be behind us are in death’s hands?” Nothing in life is ours except time, while we postpone life speeds by, so let us live well, not wasting time. […]