July 21, 2004

That Nelson Mandela remark.

Everyone seems to be ridiculing Martha Stewart for referring to Nelson Mandela after Barbara Walters asked her how she would deal with going to prison.
"I'm a really good camper. I can sleep on the ground. There are many, many good people who have gone to prison. Look at Nelson Mandela."

You can find that quote at the beginning of this article in the Wisconsin State Journal. This article, which outlines and compares on a point-by-point basis the life of Stewart and the life of Mandela, decently concedes that Stewart did not literally compare herself to Mandela, but says "it took real guts and guile (or gall) for Stewart to invoke Mandela. A lesser human would never have been able to do [it] with a straight face." That observation strikes a chord: when Larry King gave her an opportunity to deal with the remark now that people had taken it the wrong way, she said: "I wasn't comparing myself to Nelson Mandela. I am not a Nobel Prize winner." I laughed out loud at that. It's widely open to the inference that she's his equal except for the fact that she has not been awarded the Nobel Prize.

On the other hand, isn't it perfectly ordinary, when faced with a difficult task or an unfair burden, to think of an admirable person who got through an even more difficult task or carried a more monstrously unfair burden? Does anyone think that the people who say "What would Jesus do?" are claiming to be the equal of Jesus or the perfectionists affected by the New Testament verse "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" are claiming to be the equal of God? So leave our poor sentenced perfectionist alone about the Mandela remark.
[Larry King show caller:] Martha, I would like to ask you if you do have to do jail time and you come out do you -- will you bring some of your ideas from jail to your show?

STEWART: Wouldn't it really be better if I could take my ideas from my show to jail, I think that that might be a better thing.

Here is a woman profoundly dedicated to thinking in terms of how to do things well. Millions of people look to her for ideas about how to live, to the point where that caller was hoping she could extract some ideas for living out of the prison experience. In that light, one ought to be interested in her ideas about how to go to prison. We were given a chance to see that one of the things she did was contemplate Nelson Mandela. That's useful!

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