The Oppressor and the Oppressed Must Both be Liberated

Nelson Mandela

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Awakin FeatureI always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case... We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

From Nelson Mandela's autobiography: Long Walk to Freedom.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed? Can you share a personal story of a time when you felt deeply connected to both oppressor and oppressed? What helps you live a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others?

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19 Previous Reflections:

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    On Sep 13, 2019 Kunal wrote:
    He always thought that both at oppressed are deprived of their humanity so both of them need to be liberated he always desired people to live with dignity and respect

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    On May 13, 2019 Soumik wrote:
    In a land of freedom, both should be treated equally. Both should be given equal opportunities in life. All are born to this world to know the values and respect, they are born with empty minds, we are who taught them hatred and if this can be taught then, why not love. I'm an Indian and I am proud of it. And I respect my country. But still now, I still see discrimination with many people. This should be stopped. Those who found this system are dead but, still we are following this silly process.

    1 reply: Jamie | Post Your Reply
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    On May 12, 2019 Subhalaxmi wrote:
    The oppressor should be treated equally as the oppressed.In a family a small sister is oppressed by her elder brother.
    This should not happen as we all have six fundamental rights.😃😄

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    On Feb 16, 2019 Ruby chitman wrote:
    When you are oppressed by people who are in power or have a position as a manager they use their position to oppress you; Because they are hiding something. That makes it plainly clear that they need to be free as much as the one they are oppressing. If you are oppressing someone. You are bound in your mind with no ounce of peace. You have a serious problem worse than whom you are oppressing. What you are hiding will surface soon. Pray for these oppressors and the oppressed; Because the oppressor is more sick; But his static sooner or later will get the best of him. Watch God!! He is the sick one.

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    On Dec 29, 2018 szkonails23 wrote:

     


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    On Dec 5, 2017 pj wrote:

     In logh of all going on in the world today, I feel as if I am the oppressed whe I have never or would never hurt anyone.  I am conservative Christian (white, although I do have scottish, german and american indian heritage), I am a proud American, I do not want history erased, I stand for our our anthem and Flag out of respect.  I recognize the atrocious behavior of our forefathers, but going forward in progress not backwards in hatred is the key😔


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    On Aug 27, 2017 sikak wrote:

    mandela was a prophet of the highest caliber. his mind is evidence of the greatest thought our species is capable of: reciprocal altruism based on empathetic compassion. our species is, indeed, hardwired for this orientation, but painful experiences distort and twist a healthy human mind into something else. the oppressor and the oppressed are opposite sides of the same coin and we must always remember that - its how we rehumanize the dehumanizer and avoid the pitfalls that experiential distortions turned into extreme boundary drawing behavior can become.


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    On Apr 2, 2016 Smile wrote:

    The awakin reading immediately took me to a recent incidence when I became controlling. I did have awareness of my freedom being oppressed at times, but this was a new realization. To allow freedom to exist for ourselves and others, more open-mindedness, trust and love is needed.


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    On Apr 2, 2016 Smile wrote:

    Its an eye-opening passage. Recently, for something small, I had tried to control.
    I generally think of myself as the oppressed but today,as soon as the passage was read, i remembered the incidence and realised i am an oppressor too. Perhaps I have learnt that as the way from what i received, but truth is - its right there and how could I take away another person's freedom because of my own ways or learnings.
    It needs to be worked on for a freer, happier life for myself and others.


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    On Mar 30, 2016 Mariette wrote:
    This reading is near and dear to my heart since I head to Donovan State Prison two to three times a week.  The men at Donovan - many of lifers with 20 or 30 years of prison already behind them - have been told for the vast majority of their time in the judicial system that (1) they are societal scum and (2) by virtue of the crimes they committed, they are evil people.  They have been dehumanized and pushed down into pits of despair and darkness so deep that many of them have thought of or attempted to take their own lives.  Just as much as Nelson Mandela says that both the oppressed and oppressor are not free, the men at Donovan have proven to me that they can be free while behind bars.  They have freed themselves from the prisons of their minds.  They have found their light and their purpose.  They now know that they have their contribution to give to the world and they provide it, behind bars, until the day they are able to share their gifts to us ... [View Full Comment] This reading is near and dear to my heart since I head to Donovan State Prison two to three times a week.  The men at Donovan - many of lifers with 20 or 30 years of prison already behind them - have been told for the vast majority of their time in the judicial system that (1) they are societal scum and (2) by virtue of the crimes they committed, they are evil people.  They have been dehumanized and pushed down into pits of despair and darkness so deep that many of them have thought of or attempted to take their own lives.  Just as much as Nelson Mandela says that both the oppressed and oppressor are not free, the men at Donovan have proven to me that they can be free while behind bars.  They have freed themselves from the prisons of their minds.  They have found their light and their purpose.  They now know that they have their contribution to give to the world and they provide it, behind bars, until the day they are able to share their gifts to us "on the streets" as they call the free world.
     
    One example comes to mind.  In his own words:  He was "so deeply tormented by guilt, shame and lonliness" that he had decided to "commit suicide by killing as many correctional officers as he could before being taken out."  A few days before his planned rampage, he was transformed by a bag of 120 letters of love and prayers written by complete strangers from the outside.  Today, this man is one of my deepest examples of loving compassion and selfless service.  His service actions are constant.  He arrives early to the different programs to set up the chairs for the 50 men coming behind him.  At the first class of a new program, a new inmate said that he needed paper and, without missing a beat, this man ripped the page on which he was writing from his pad and gave the rest of the pad to the new inmate.  He picks up the litter in the Yard...
    [Hide Full Comment]

    1 reply: Abimbola | Post Your Reply
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    On Mar 29, 2016 AJ wrote:

     On the "liberation" note, the only one who can free us from this sin is Jesus.  When I reflect on Him, Jesus never used His power, authority, superior position to "sit upon us" ... He (very patiently) walks beside us.  (He did not come to Earth to condemn ... But to save.  "Do THIS in memory of Me".


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    On Mar 29, 2016 sadhana wrote:

     Yes,it is correct.But the oppressor does not think so.It is only understood by a person who looks at it objectively rising above the situation.


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    On Mar 29, 2016 Sunil,Bangalore wrote:

     


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    On Mar 29, 2016 Anne Winther wrote:

    The oppressor must be liberated.  Too frequently the oppressed become the oppressors, as the oppressed in their freedom emulate the power of their oppressors.  The work of Joseph Conrad tells the story and history bears witness (e.g. oppressed Scots becoming oppressors as colonizers of new territories) .  True liberation of the oppressed means destruction of the old models of power and co-creating new forms of living encompassing justice, harmony and well-being for all.


    1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
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    On Mar 27, 2016 david doane wrote:
    I agree with Nelson Mandela that the oppressor is a prisoner just as much as the oppressed.  I believe the arrangement is like a teeter-totter where it takes two to keep it going.  I've been with couples in abusive relationships and see both parties as oppressed and both parties as keeping it going, even though one is called victim and gets all the sympathy and the other is called violent and perpetrator and is condemned.  I have felt connected to and sympathetic with both parties, and have made an effort to get them both to get off their teeter-totter and develop a different arrangement.  Some do and some don't.  What helps me live a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others is reminding myself that we are one -- I look across the divide of me and them and see me -- we have had different circumstances, but we are basically alike, and with kindness and compassion we could get back to realizing that.  I believe we are born loving, we learn to ha... [View Full Comment]

    I agree with Nelson Mandela that the oppressor is a prisoner just as much as the oppressed.  I believe the arrangement is like a teeter-totter where it takes two to keep it going.  I've been with couples in abusive relationships and see both parties as oppressed and both parties as keeping it going, even though one is called victim and gets all the sympathy and the other is called violent and perpetrator and is condemned.  I have felt connected to and sympathetic with both parties, and have made an effort to get them both to get off their teeter-totter and develop a different arrangement.  Some do and some don't.  What helps me live a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others is reminding myself that we are one -- I look across the divide of me and them and see me -- we have had different circumstances, but we are basically alike, and with kindness and compassion we could get back to realizing that.  I believe we are born loving, we learn to hate, and we can relearn loving. 

    [Hide Full Comment]

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    On Mar 25, 2016 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

     Wow, this is timely given our current political campaigns in the US. I see so much hatred, yet my initial response in compassion. How hurt this person and these people must be to react with such hatred. How can we heal that hurt? I resonate so much with Mandela's thinking; none of us are free if we do not live from a place of compassion for EVERYONE and seek to unshackle from hatred. I think so much hatred is born out of fear, and if we can address those fears through trying to listen then we are one step closer to healing. Whew! Hugs to everyone from my heart to yours.


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