GREG MORRISON

essays, articles, & reviews

my thoughts on design, advertising, and the arts

Nelson Mandela: Powerful Beyond Measure

As a struggling college student, I had a professor who shared some inspirational words that have stayed with me.  He said he didn't know who had written the words, but that they had been quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural address.  The quote has been making the rounds since the news of Mandela's death, but the consensus is that he actually never cited those words, which were written by author and activist Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Williamson has acknowledged the misattribution graciously.  Although it's unclear how the passage came to be associated with Mandela, he is also widely attributed with the following statement, which is very similar:

“There is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Perhaps Mandela's words were influenced by Williamson's, or vice versa.  Their use of the phrase "playing small" could be purely coincidental.  But rather than being caught up in catching people mistakenly quoting, I'm more inclined to consider how Mandela might have agreed with Williamson's words and sentiments.

Author Ayana Mathis expresses the idea beautifully in her essay for The New Yorker commemorating Mandela's passing.  She describes his great power as the ability to see the world in all its promise and potential, understanding innately how vital it is that every person live to the fullest in order to realize that potential and manifest that promise.  Her essay is brief and masterfully crafted, so I will not disassemble it for emphasis.  Instead I encourage everyone to read it, re-read it, and save it.  And perhaps save the words above from Williamson, too.  They have always served as a reminder to me that God is great, He has created us in His image, and we are called to use all our gifts to glorify Him and to edify others.

Greg MorrisonComment