March 10, 1999
If you were paying attention to the recent literature of what might be called the “new paradigm movement” or the overlapping worlds of the New Age and business transformation movement, you’ve probably seen a now-famous quote by South African President Nelson Mandela. The passage is incredibly uplifting. It has been repeated by many people and publications around the world. I fully expect that it is still being widely quoted today as it gets around on the Internet and word-of-mouth. I first saw the quote in a publication I receive regularly – IONS Review – a periodical from the Institute of Noetic Sciences, a not-for-profit membership organization to which I have belonged for many years. It is an organization I admire tremendously. Until his death in 1997, my dear friend Willis Harman served as its president.
The entire passage is too lengthy for me to include here but you might recognize this portion of it:
“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…”
Isn’t that a terrific quote! Doesn’t it feel good? No wonder so many people liked to use it when they wrote or spoke. A wonderful quote by a renowned and admired world leader. Since I was a journalist in part at the time, I had many more plans to cite it. I was so excited to see that someone who was held in such high regard had said such a thing!
I included this passage in an 1996 editorial I wrote for The New Leaders newsletter while I was still publisher. Charles Handy made it part of his 1998 book The Hungry Spirit. Several authors have included it in the manuscripts they submitted for several of the business anthologies I created since that time. I heard that Quincy Jones read it during an internationally telecast awards show.
But, there was a problem. President Mandela never actually said these words.
The first I knew of this incorrect attribution was when I saw a letter-to-the-editor published in the IONS Bulletin – another publication from the Institute. After reading the letter, sent by best-selling author Marrianne Williamson who explained that the passage was actually from her book, A Return to Love, I called the South African consulate in Los Angeles. They promptly sent me a transcript of Mandela’s inaugural speech. There was nothing resembling these words in the pages I received. Several colleagues suggested that he might have read Ms. Williamson’s words, possibly as an ad lib which wouldn’t have been included in his official text.
Still hoping that he had at least quoted Williamson, mostly because I wanted a leader of his stature to have spoken these words, but also because I had already cited the quote in my article, I wrote President Mandela a letter asking him if he ever spoke those words. I mailed one copy to him in South Africa. However, not trusting the mail system entirely, I asked two colleagues – Lewis Griggs and his South African-born wife Lente-Louise Louw who were headed for that country – to hand-carry another copy and see that it was delivered to the President.
To my surprise, I received a reply to both letters. Mandela’s office stated that the President “did not utter the quotation ‘Our deepest fear…’ at his inauguration or at any other time.” There – it was official. The quote had been mis-attributed!
While the publisher in me dealt with this news professionally (we should publish a correction to clarify the matter for all the parties involved) the part of me that wanted Mandela to have said it was quite disappointed. I had really wanted the citation to be true! It meant a lot to the “movement” to have a person of his prominence stating such a profound notion.
Then I wondered why it was more important to me that he would have said the words instead of Williamson. The words were wonderfully uplifting, regardless of who spoke them! Subsequently, Marrianne and I talked by phone about this matter as well as some other subjects. It was a very stimulating conversation. I had several insights both during and subsequent to our talking.
Even though I know that we humans are evolving into a new era – a new paradigm and the Age of Consciousness – where “stars” and celebrities will not be as revered as they are today, I also know that we aren’t there yet. We are still in a paradigm where “influentials” carry more weight than mere civilians. High-profile people still garnish more headlines, add more weight to causes and are held in higher esteem than unknown or lesser-known folks.
In other words, many of us who considered ourselves to be part of the “movement” wanted Mandela to have said what we thought he said. It meant more somehow. This was evidence of “old paradigm credentialism” in action.
Some weeks after all this happened, I was talking to a colleague – Rob Rabbin, a mystic, a fine author and a very dear friend. He suggested that perhaps, in the larger scope of things, Mandela was supposed to have said those words. I enjoyed the light-heartedness of Rob’s quip and laughed at the cosmic joke in it.
Now, why am I writing all this now? Why has this come up again?
Recently I received a special issue of Leaders magazine. This magazine is the ultimate “exclusive” periodical. It goes only to heads of state (kings and queens, presidents, prime ministers, ruling princes and princesses and other potentates), leaders of multi-national corporations, leaders of worldwide religions, international union leaders and thought leaders around the world. You cannot subscribe to Leaders, even if you wanted to. You are granted a subscription base upon your credential.
A “special issue” of Leaders is a rare occurrence. I’ve never seen one in the nine or ten years I’ve been receiving the magazine. The occasion for this 1999 special issue was “The First Exclusive Interview Given by Zhu Rongji, the Premier of the People’s Republic of China.”
There is no doubt that an interview with this man, representing about a third of the earth’s population, deserved attention. Since the six-page special issue arrived on its own, not sandwiched among the hundreds of pages of an ordinary issue of the magazine, I naturally read it entirely. Leaders founder and Editor-in-Chief Henry Dormann conducted the interview which offered some insight into the thinking of the top man of the biggest nation in the world!
In the midst of the interview, Dormann asked Premier Rongji: “What can be done to give the West a better understanding of China? What can the world expect of China in the next five to 15 years?”
The Premier elaborated upon his answer. Among all the words he spoke, however, I managed to find a few words which fed my appetite for evidence – evidence that some credible person could see and enunciate a higher purpose, a vision for a transformed world. In the process of responding to Dormann’s question, Premier Rongji stated, “…China will move forward significantly in building on socialist democracy and the rule of law as well as that of spiritual civilization…”
Did he say “spiritual civilization” I wondered? I re-read the line to be sure the words were really there. They were, but what did he mean? So, I wrote a colleague who serves as Executive Editor of Leaders. I asked him if he could check with Dormann to see what the Premier might have meant by the phrase “spiritual civilization” – in particular how it applied to China’s future.
Why did I ask?
The answer brings me back to why so many people want to think that Mandela had spoken the words that Williamson had written. In reading the Leaders piece, I wanted someone with the position and status of Premier Rongji to be addressing the issue of spirituality as it applied to his country’s future. This could put the issue of spirit and consciousness right into the limelight of political discussion, after all.
However, as a meta-observer looking over this scene I’m playing in, I can see that I was still hoping that the credentialled person would add profile to the subject. After all, it would reinforce my vision for the world if he had meant what I’d like him to mean.
My friend at Leaders was unable to give me any clarity, however. He told me that Dormann could not elaborate on what was published. He told me that Premier Rongji could speak excellent English but still used a translator and that this was the way the translation worked out.
So – here I am again, wishing that “someone important” had said something really important that could be picked up by the mainstream media, making it even more important in our conversations about a transcendent future, a new paradigm, our evolution toward a new planetary consciousness.
Am I still suffering from some celebrity idolization like so many others? I think yes. Do I like this realization? No! Absolutely not!
However, I recognize that we still operate – live and work – in a world that makes a big deal about famous people. Since I live in this world I can see how I might succumb to some of the cultural idiosyncrasies. Nevertheless, I don’t like recognizing that I might be so hungry for social transformation that I’m willing to capitalize on any comment, any quote from a high-profile person who supports my position.
There are millions of us hoping, trying, and expecting to see new realities. We want to see “agreement” – more people who agree with us about new possibilities for humanity. That way, we can gather others in our quest for a new reality.
Yes, I’m hungry. I’m hungry for a new consensus – sufficient agreement, alignment, and constituency for a new global reality that honors each human, respects the environment, holds meaningful work as everyone’s right, and strives for the next positive step in human evolution.
The time for relying on others to validate, to add credibility or credential to our views, is passing. But using our heroes and heroines for this purpose still has some strategic value in the present paradigm – where things like strategy, celebrity and influence still matter, at least for a while.
John E. Renesch is a San Francisco writer, futurist, and business philosopher. To call 415-437-6974. More information about him and his work can be found on the Web at John Renesch.