Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wisdom and on Mandela by Malcolm Fraser

"One of the greatest gifts one generation can give to another is the knowledge gained from experience. Inspired by this concept, photographer and filmmaker Andrew Zuckerman asked some of the world's leaders in the arts, religion, business and politics, all over 65, about wisdom."

So as the Good Weekend (Sept 20, 2008 issue, pp 32-38) spread article began. What caught my interest is the excerpt from Malcolm Fraser's answer. Malcolm Fraser is a former Prime Minister of Australia, and as far as I know is not a member of the craft. But reading his comments, he could have been a craftsman:

"Compromise is a question of judgement - how far can you go without forgoing a matter of great principle?" Malcolm Fraser

"Wisdom is a rare commodity. There are a lot very brilliant people, bright people, clever people; not so many people who are wise. I'm not sure I can define wisdom in any clear, short way that's going to make a great deal of sense. But once you've known somebody for a while, you'll begin to understand whether they're wise or not.

Of all the people I've met anywhere in the world, I think the wisest and the best person was [Nelson] Mandela: somebody who could endure what he endured over the best part of three decades, come out of that with no sense of bitterness, no sense of sourness, who made friends with his jailers, recognised the other fellow's point of view, realised you can't come to a solution unless the point of view of the person to whom you're sometimes very strongly opposed is also taken into account.

The man's charity, his humanity... he may be the living definition of wisdom (Mod note: also a great man full of wisdom is the late Mahatma Gandhi.). But you can't describe Mandela just in a sentence or a paragraph.

The first time I met Mandela was in Pollsmoor Prison. He'd been taken into a sort of guest house and he was formal; he wasn't in prison clothes, he'd been given a decent safari suite to wear. Tall, upright. A spare man. A twinkle in his eye after 27 or 28 years in jail; still, the twinkle's still there. And he said, "Mr Fraser, can you tell me, is Donald Bradman (Mod note: The great Australian cricketer and a famous Freemason.) still alive?"

We begin to understand a person's wisdom based on what they do, what they stand for. If you take some examples out of recent times, there are people who train to believe in the rule of law, due process, equal application of the law to all people regardless of race, colour, religions; and then you look at what they do and you find they don't mean a word of it.

I sometimes see the wheel going around in relation to these things. I've experienced a little bit, I've read a little bit more history, and the sorts of things that are said now used to be said in Australia. For example, "We'll today Muslims aren't really Australians, because their first duty is to the Prophet."

In my father's time people said that of Roman Catholics: "They're not really Australians, their first duty is to the Pope." Now, nobody believes that any more, but for a number of reasons... that involved bigotry and hatred - total lack of reason - people believed it of Catholics, 50, 60. 70 years ago, and it created a sourness, a bitterness in this country that endured and among older people is not entirely dead.

When are we going to learn from history? Perhaps the most important thing to try to learn is that if you are ever going to get to a solution, if you are ever going to create a peaceful world, you are going to ask: what is it possible for the other fellow to do - for your opponent to do? If you are going to stand up and preach at him and say you've got to do this, you've got to do that, there'll never be an agreement.

I don't know that I can give anyone advice about going into politics, but I can say what I would hope people would go into politics for ... I would hope that somebody would have some fairly deeply held beliefs of the kind of society that he or she wanted to help create."

(Edited extract from Wisdom by Andrew Zuckerman, published by Hachette Australia on October 1; rrp $75. Wisdom is supported by a free multimedia exhibition of the same name at the State Library of NSW from October 18 to November 16; for details visit http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/ )

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