There's a beautiful scene in the recent biopic of Nelson Mandela when the great man is seeing out his incarceration in a villa and the South African officials come to visit him, prepared to negotiate. The officials carefully lay out which concessions they will offer him, before turning to him and directly asking him what he, Mandela, is prepared to give in return for these moves towards the end of apartheid. Mandela is, as ever, gracious in accepting these offers but declares that there is nothing that needs to be given in return. It is simply justice being done.
Mandela refused to negotiate on a principle that, he believed, was the only right course of action. He had no intention of stooping down to politics but maintained with quiet, moral authority that this was the only way forward.
I have written before of my admiration for leaders that, to me, seem to embody a more spiritual view of the world but I was asked recently to define what it was that united these leaders and what they achieved.
During a recent trip to Geneva, I had an opportunity to visit the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum which is a fascinating and beautifully put together exhibit of the humanitarian work of the institute. Whilst I was there, there was a temporary exhibition Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Non-Violence. It was during the exhibition that I learnt more about the concept of 'soul force', or satyagraha, the cornerstone of Gandhi's philosophy. Although the concept of satyagraha has become to be synonymous with 'passive resistance', Gandhi believed it went much further
Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase "passive resistance", in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word "satyagraha" itself or some other equivalent English phrase. M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1111, pp. 109-10
This philosophy was known to have also influenced Mandela himself, as well as Martin Luther King. Indeed, Martin Luther King also used the concept of 'soul force' in his famous I Have a Dream speech.
As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform....It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking. King, Jr., Martin Luther (1998). Carson, Clayborne, ed. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. pp. 23-24. ISBN 0-446-52412-3.
Love as a power is rarely acknowledged these days amongst our world leaders and, indeed, is often belittled in importance. It is a long time since a visionary such as Gandhi, Mandela or King has emerged yet the issues facing are world are at least as equal to, or greater, than the challenges that faced these great men in their time. To me, it is this soul force, or love force, that is what truly makes a great leader. And, right now, in times of crisis, the opportunity to clarify the values that we hold so dear is presenting itself with a clarion call.
More than ever before, these challenges link all of us, across nations and borders and seas, calling us for a more inspired sense of what it is that defines our identity at a profound, spiritual level and, ultimately, what unites us in a shared humanity. Love is the only force that should inspire leadership.
In the words of Nelson Mandela,
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. Long Walk to Freedom