Heidi Trautmann

Heidi Trautmann Column 36 - Let’s talk about Culture and …..ethical integrity: here Nelson Mandela


“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” - Nelson Mandela

I enjoy reading Nelson Mandela’s quotes – he has many – because they are not empty phrases but born from experience, often bitter experience combined with wisdom. Nelson Mandela is for me a very important personality, firstly because I have lived in South Africa and two of my sons were born there and secondly that he fought Apartheid not with revenge and hate but with the outstretched hands of a partner.  

It was his 95th birthday just two weeks ago and in my thoughts I wished him well and thanked him for his enormous courage. On courage Nelson Mandela says:

“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”


What is ethical integrity? We all have a vague idea about it, especially when we talk about politicians or other leaders, we want them to be ‘integer’ which is Latin and means whole, complete. Ethical or ethics means a way of thinking, a part of social philosophy, or let’s say it with simpler words: It is the definition of what is good and bad. So ethical integrity is the rules you set up for yourself and you live by, while truth is your basic understanding in communications and actions; when people say, he sticks to his word, you can trust him, he/she is an ‘integer’ man or woman.  

When you fight for something, I mean without weapons, with deeds and words, you have to live the same way you preach, otherwise you wouldn’t be trustworthy. You cannot demand from others what you don’t demand from yourself; or how Nelson Mandela says it:

“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.”

I remember that I often told this to my children when their behaviour was not in order: “My dear friend, you are hurting my right of freedom.” There is a lot to be said about freedom but as long as we live within a community we have to make compromises not to hurt the rights of others.


To be a leader – or a parent, or a teacher – means a life of discipline, to set a good example, you must not be caught doing otherwise then you would lose the trust others put into you. Especially children are immediately aware when there is a discrepancy between words and deeds.

A leader cannot demand absolute obedience, because he thinks he knows best what is good for the people of his country – that would be despotism – he must also listen to the voices from his community and decide wisely. Nelson Mandela puts it nicely:

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”


But still, the quote I mentioned at the beginning, is in my opinion the most important for leading an ‘integer’ life. It is to be true to oneself even if it hurts and is sometimes of disadvantage to you. One can start to practice it by not taking oneself too seriously, by stepping out of the circle and seeing yourself as part of the chain of all nature; we are not the master over nature but part of it. Our value as a human being equals that of a tree or a fish, a bird or a flower.

Artists for example, musicians, painters or any other creative people experience just this feeling when they are right in the middle of a creating process. I should know since I have interviewed hundreds of them and I know what they talk about because I feel just the same when for example I study the beauty of a body in front of me or a sunflower, a landscape or the great miracle of sky and sea.

People who live true to themselves and accept nothing but the truth,  live easier because they don’t have to rely on their memory what they said on what occasion. But this is not all, remember what Nelson Mandela said? Humility.

It is so seldom that we find all the characteristics I have described here united in one person, but one of them is Nelson Mandela.




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