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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mandela's Twin Obligations

by Bradly Baird:

At the time of Nelson Mandela's death, I just happened to be reading his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The book presents an engaging history of Mandela's role in South Africa and also offers some terrific insight into the political forces that shaped his country and life.

Despite these fascinating offerings, I was most attracted to three passages wherein Mandela offers some personal perspectives on the sacrifices and choices he made, particularly with respect to his family. To my mind, these passages cut right to the heart of the choices and sacrifices we make everyday; and in a culture such as Mormonism, where family is one of our highest priorities, these passages are particularly relevant.

I am not going to provide any commentary on Mandela's words, because I think that they speak well enough for themselves. But I wonder what you, our readers, think when you encounter these words? How do these words affect your mind when passed through the filter of your Mormon background and all you know about the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Robben Island: The Dark Years

"A mother's death causes a man to look back on and evaluate his own life. Her difficulties, her poverty, made me question once again whether I had taken the right path. That was always the conundrum: Had I made the right choice in putting the people's welfare even before that of my own family? My family had not asked for or even wanted to be involved in the struggle, but my involvement penalized them.

In South Africa, it is hard for a man to ignore the needs of the people, even at the expense of his own family. I had made my choice, and in the end, [my mother] supported it. But it did not lessen the sadness I felt at not being able to make her life more comfortable, or the pain of not being able to lay her to rest."


"Perhaps I was blinded to certain things because of the pain I felt for not being able to fulfill my role as a husband to my wife and a father to my children. But just as I am convinced that my wife's life while I was in prison was more difficult than mine, my own return was also more difficult for her than it was for me.

She married a man who soon left her, that man became a myth; and then that myth returned home and proved to be just a man after all. As I said at my daughter's wedding, it seems to be the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives. When your life is the struggle, as mine was, there is little room left for family. That has always been my greatest regret, and the most painful aspect of the choice I made.

My children said, 'We thought we had a father and one day he'd come back. But to our dismay, our father came back and he left us alone because he has now become the father of the nation.' To be the father of a nation is a great honor, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far too little of."

Freedom, Part II

"For myself, I have never regretted my commitment to the struggle, and I was always prepared to face the hardships that affected me personally. But my family paid a terrible price, perhaps too dear a price for my commitment.

In life, every man has twin obligations - obligations to his family, to his parents, to his wife and children; and he has an obligation to his people, his community, his country. In a civil and humane society, each man is able to fulfill those obligations according to his own inclinations and abilities. In South Africa, a man who tried to fulfill his duty to his people was inevitably ripped from his family.

I did not in the beginning choose to place my people above my family, but in attempting to serve my people, I found that I was prevented from fulfilling my obligations as a son, a brother, a father, and a husband. My commitment to my people ... was at the expense of the people I knew best and loved most."

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Bradly Allen Baird is the father of two amazing children and has been married for almost twenty years. He served a mission in Finland, though he was really supposed to serve in Uruguay. His professional meanderings include everything from education to economic development, to human capital management in the IT industry (hopefully this one sticks); and spends his Saturdays hanging out with the missionaries in Provo, or racing back and forth between his children's activities in tae kwon do and elite cheerleading. Bradly also survived an MBA program; developed a somewhat limited interest in music, theater, film, urban planning, judaica, liberation theology, politics, israel, and latin american history; studies the influence of graphic imagery on public space; wrote a thesis about Leonard Bernstein, is obsessed with the American Symphonists, and reads publications like The Tablet and the Jewish Daily Forward.
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