He often said that he knew anger well, and that he had to struggle against the demand for payback in his own personality. He reported that during his 27 years of imprisonment he had to practise a disciplined type of meditation to keep his personality moving forward and avoiding the anger trap. It now seems clear that the prisoners on Robben Island had smuggled in a copy of Meditations by the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, to give them a model of patient effort against the corrosions of anger.
But Mandela was determined to win the struggle. He wanted a successful nation, even then, and he knew that there could be no successful nation when two groups were held apart by suspicion, resentment, and the desire to make the other side pay for the wrongs they had done. Even though those wrongs were terrible, cooperation was necessary for nationhood. So he did things, in that foul prison, that his fellow prisoners thought perverse. He learned Afrikaans. He studied the culture and thinking of the oppressors. He practised cooperation by forming friendships with his jailers. Generosity and friendliness were not justified by past deeds; but they were necessary for future progress.
Can’t resist drawing parallels between Nelson Mandela and Nadiya Savchenko. Both went to war as psychopaths, both emerged from the prison as stoics.