10 Inspiring Quotes from Nelson Mandela

On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95, in his home in Johannesburg. In losing him, we lost someone as strongly identified with freedom, courage, and peace as any world leader over the past century. Though he was not an American, he was an important figure even here—closely aligned with American activism and politics and democracy.

I’m inspired by him every time I think about his 27 years in prison, his strong push to abolish apartheid, and his work on racial reconciliation and poverty. Not just by his example—seriously: TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS in prison—but by the wisdom and optimism in his words. These are some of my favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela, and in the wake of his recent passing, I hope they inspire you the same way they inspire me.

  • 10 Inspiring Quotes from Nelson Mandela 1 of 11

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  • On the head and the heart… 2 of 11

    "A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."

    [photo / Wikiquote]

  • On falling and rising… 3 of 11

    "The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but it rising every time we fail."

    [photo / Wikiquote]

  • On hatred… 4 of 11

    "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. 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."

    [photo / Wikiquote]

  • On becoming an outlaw… 5 of 11

    "When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw."

    [photo / Wikiquote]

  • On what we have… 6 of 11

    "Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."

    [photo / Wikiquote]

  • On taking away freedom… 7 of 11

    "It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

    [photo / Wikiquote]

  • On optimism… 8 of 11

    "I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death."

    [photo / Wikiquote]

  • On freedom… 9 of 11

    "When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning."

    [photo / Wikiquote]

  • On courage… 10 of 11

    "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

    [photo / Wikiquote]

  • On enemies… 11 of 11

    "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."

    [photo / Wikiquote]

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