Nelson Mandela’s Decade of Democracy Article (April 2004)

As we have seen, the fifth and last concert in South Africa by the Minnesota Orchestra was in Johannesburg, which is where Nelson Mandela in 1964 was arrested and charged for four major crimes that he attacked in a lengthy statement to the court in the Rivonia Trial. Now we examine his April 2004 newspaper article on South Africa’s first decade of democracy. Another connection with that city occured in June 2004, when he announced his retirement from public affairs that will be discussed in a later post.

Decade of Democracy Article [1]

In April 2004, Mandela wrote the following article in The Sunday Times about his country’s first decade of democracy:

“Freedom in our lifetime was a slogan of hope, encouragement, sustenance and inspiration to generations of our freedom fighters, anti-apartheid activists and the masses of our people suffering oppression, exploitation and degradation.”

“A struggling people and their liberation movements have to hold on to the hope of freedom even under the most difficult circumstances, against the greatest odds and in the darkest hours. We, the people of South Africa and the freedom movements of our people, have suffered many moments and eras of deep despondency when it must have appeared that the so much longed for emancipation was never to be attained, at least not in our various and respective lifetimes.”

“Measure that against centuries of colonial rule and dispossession. Against decades of apartheid rule, the most structured form of racial domination and discrimination the world has known after the Second World War.”

“A decade may in mere measurable terms seem to be nothing in human history. As a people, we South Africans know this decade of living together in peace, in the acknowledgement of our common humanity, in the democratic accommodation of our differences within our national unity to be a human achievement that in its impact and magnitude transcends and belies the brevity of its years.”

“I have so often heard us being described by people across the globe as a miracle nation. We were expected by the world to self-destruct in the bloodiest civil war along racial grounds. Not only did we avert such racial conflagration; we created amongst ourselves one of the most exemplary and progressive non-racial and non-sexist democratic orders in the contemporary world.”

“Perhaps we do not always appreciate the magnitude of that achievement and its inspiration for a late-twentieth and early twenty-first century world yearning and searching for hope and meaning. For once history and hope rhymed, a famous poet reminded me and us, speaking of the miracle of our transition and the wonder of our democracy.”

“This first decade was one of laying foundations, of early building, of consolidation. Much of it had, by the nature of our divided history, to consist of breaking down, of un-doing. The government over which I was chosen to preside had to take stock and come to an understanding of the structures and rules that governed our nation and our lives under the perversion of apartheid; to initiate the process of de-legislation and re-legislation; to create a new system of legislation and regulation governed by the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law.”

“That government – the government of national unity – was in itself, by its mere nature, a celebration and demonstration of the will and the capacity of the South African people and their elected leaders to make democracy work. It brought together three historically antagonistic political movements in a co-operative venture to make our country succeed, to establish and consolidate our democracy, to unite our people in their diversity.”

“When I reflect on this first decade of our democracy and more particularly for the moment on those first foundational five years, I have to pay tribute to the wisdom and the considered rationality of the leaders of those participating parties and all the members of that first Cabinet. They all will have opportunity and reason in their inevitable memoirs to reflect and report on my moments of impatience, anger, folly and irrationality, I suppose; what will remain with me is the memory of collegiality, shared patriotism and the pride of country.”

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[1] Nelson Mandela Foundation, Decade of Democracy (Sunday Times April 2004).

 

Why I Do Not Hope To Die at 75

Under the provocative title, “Why I Hope To Die at 75,” the 57-year-old Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and head of the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, sets forth in The Atlantic Magazine what he claims to be his firm conclusion that he hopes to die in 18 years at age 75.

As a 75 year-old-man who was graduated from high school in 1957, the year Emanuel was born, I do not hope to die in the remaining months before I turn 76 or at any other set time.

Let us explore the reasons for these different conclusions.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s Reasons

According to Dr. Emmanuel, “[L]iving too long is . . . a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” He then backs up this opinion with what he asserts as facts:

  • “We [in the U.S.] are growing old [in terms of increased life expectancy], and our older years are not of high quality.” Studies show, he says, that “increases in longevity seem to have been accompanied by increases in disability.” Another study found an “increase in the absolute number of years lost to disability [including mental disabilities like depression and dementia] as life expectancy rises.”[1]
  • Another medical researcher said, “health care hasn’t slowed the aging process so much as it has slowed the dying process.”
  • “[O]ur mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older: mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, problem-solving and creativity.”
  • The “most dreadful of all possibilities: living with dementia and other acquired mental disabilities” while our society is expected to experience a “tsunami of dementia.”
  • As we age, we “accommodate our physical and mental limitations. Our expectations shrink. . . . [W]e choose ever more restricted activities and projects, to ensure we can fulfill them.”

He recognizes that “there is more to life than youthful passions focused on career and creating. There is [mentoring and] posterity: children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

But these benefits of aging are outweighed for him by “the very real and oppressive financial and caregiving burdens” often imposed on other family members and by the psychological burdens on children unable to escape from the shadows of living parents.

Although Emanuel does not embrace euthanasia or suicide for himself, he has executed “a do-not-resuscitate order and a complete advance directive indicating no ventilators, dialysis, surgery, antibiotics, or any other medication. . . . In short, no life-sustaining interventions.” In addition, if and when he reaches age 75, he will seek to avoid any visit to a doctor and any regular preventive tests, screenings, or interventions. He says he “will accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if he is suffering pain or other disability.”

A desire to die at age 75, he says, “forces us to think about the end of our lives and engage with the deepest existential questions and ponder what we want to leave our children and grandchildren, our community, our fellow Americans, our world.”

He concludes with this caveat. “I retain the right to change my mind and offer a vigorous defense of living as long as possible. That, after all, would mean still being creative after 75.”

Responses to Emmanuel’s Reasons

I agree with Emmanuel that as we age we lose some of our physical and mental abilities and that executing a complete advance medical directive forbidding extreme life-sustaining interventions, as he and I have done, is a reasonable thing to do.

Otherwise I vigorously disagree with Emmanuel’s conclusion that a desire to die at age 75 is a reasonable conclusion and reject his argument that what others think of us or how they may remember us after we are gone is relevant to this issue. Apparently creativity is a central virtue for him, and its predictable decline as we age appear to be the major motivation for his stated desire to die at 75. Yes, creativity is important for many of us, but it is not the only virtue.

I also wonder why he does not contemplate retirement from actively working for a living as another stage of life with certain benefits. Nor does he really grapple with the facts, he briefly concedes, that many older people are happy with new interests like “bird watching, bicycle riding, pottery, and the like” and that “there is more to life than youthful passions focused on career and creating. There is posterity: children, grand children and great-grandchildren.” He also glosses over the fact that his own father (Dr. Benjamin M. Emmanuel), now about 87 years old, had a heart attack 10 years ago and since then has slowed down appreciably, but still says he is happy.

My Reasons for Not Wanting To Die at 75

At age 62 with some trepidation, I retired from the active practice of law. I wanted to escape the pressure of being a litigator who oftentimes was forced to be in professional relationships with opposing counsel who were disagreeable people. This produced stress that I wanted to eliminate as life-threatening. I also wanted to create time to do other things beside working while I was still in good health: travel, spend time with my grandchildren, learn new things and write. After my first 10 years of retirement I assessed my retirement and concluded that these years had been productive and enjoyable. That confirmed for me the wisdom of retiring when I did. These conclusions have been reconfirmed by my subsequent three additional years of retirement.

In this period I became actively involved in my church’s global partnerships and made three mission trips to Cuba and one to Cameroon and in the process made new international friends and learned a lot about the two countries. My involvement with Cuba prompted me to become an advocate for changing U.S. policies regarding the island. I could not have done this while still practicing law.

I also have reflected on my own life and affirmatively set about determining the many people and activities for which I was grateful. Yes, this could have been done while still working, but the pressures of working, I believe, would have meant postponing such reflections to another day that would never have come. This process of reflection, aided by worship at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, has also enabled me to see certain of my activities as vocations in the Christian sense.

One of my activities in this first phase of retirement was being a part-time Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School to co-teach international human rights law. In the process I learned a lot about this field of law and enjoyed interacting with law professors and students. I could not have done this while still practicing law.

At the end of 2010 I retired from law teaching in order to create time for sharing things I already had written and for research and writing on new topics that came along. In the spring of 2011 this desire lead to my creating and writing this blog. It is exciting to come across new things, like Emmanuel’s article that prompted this post. I frequently find that such things immediately start my composing an article in my head. Often this triggers a desire to do research, frequently using “Google” searches, but sometimes going to a library or sources of original documents. I enjoy this kind of puzzle and challenge as well as the writing.

In my retirement I also have thought about mortality, especially as friends, acquaintances and others my age die. But such thoughts are not depressing, but rather reminders that I too am mortal. Therefore, try to make the most of each day you have.

I do not worry about when I will die or wish that I will die at a particular age. Nor do I worry about what happens to me after death even though Christianity has a promise of eternal life.

Be happy! Enjoy life! Love one another!

This point was raised in an article entitled “Too Young to Die, Too Old to Worry” by Jason Karlawish, a professor of medicine, just after the publication of the Emmanuel essay, but without citation to same. Karlawish said, “Age seems to be a blunt criterion to decide when to stop” and “we desire not simply to pursue life, but happiness, and . . . medicine is important, but it’s not the only means to this happiness.”

Here are some of my blog posts that relate to the previous statement of reasons why I do not desire to die at 75.

Post # Date Title
19 04/22/11 Retiring from Lawyering
21 04/23/11 My First Ten Years of Retirement
226 03/15/12 Gratitude I
242 04/11/12 Gratitude II
243 04/13/12 Gratitude III
276 06/13/12 Gratitude Revisited
221 03/08/12 Intimations of Mortality
489 04/08/14 Mortality
492 04/11/14 Death Certificates’ Documentation of Mortality
466 02/06/14 My General Thoughts on Vocation
475 02/23/14 My Vocations

[1] Emmanuel makes no reference to the immediately preceding article in the magazine by Greg Easterbrook, What Happens When We All Live to 100?, The Atlantic at 61 (Oct. 2014) that discusses research into further increases in vibrant life span.

Gratitude II

A prior post expressed my gratitude for teachers, professors and professional colleagues who have helped me. But that hardly exhausts my reasons for gratitude.

I was blessed for having met and married Mary Alyce. An intelligent, attractive woman, she gave birth to our two sons, Alan and Brian, and bore the major responsibility for raising them to adulthood. All of us have been healthy without major accidents, another blessing. There have been problems along the way, of course, but we have managed to confront and surmount them. I am grateful.

For 24 years, 1957 through early 1981, I had no religious or spiritual life. I clearly suffered from the sin of pride. Yet I give thanks for those years. They gave me a strong sense of what it is like to be without a spiritual grounding as well as an understanding and appreciation for intellect, logic and reason. I am grateful.

In May 1981 I had a major turning when I could admit to myself and others that I did not have all the answers to life and when I joined Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. I am now in my 31st year of active membership at this church, and it has been and continues to be a major blessing in my life. I lament the way that Christianity is often presented to the rest of the world today, especially in my home state of Iowa over their recent Republican caucuses. I, therefore, strive to present in my own way an intelligent person’s understanding of the faith. I am grateful.

I now have four grandchildren. They are wonderful, intelligent, curious, polite and healthy human beings. I am now concerned to do what I can to help them go to college and achieve all that they can be. I am grateful.

My practice of law provided an excellent income, and my wife and I were able to save for our retirement, making it possible for me to retire at age 62. As I read the many stories in the press about so many people today unexpectedly not being able to retire for financial reasons, I know that I am privileged. I am grateful.

I am also glad that I decided to retire from lawyering early at age 62 in order to have time, energy and good health to do things I wanted to do. Similarly I am glad I retired at the end of 2010 from my part-time job of law school teaching and from volunteering as an arbitrator for the Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority in order to create time for writing and doing things I wanted to do. I am grateful.

For all these blessings, I give thanks to God and to those named and unnamed individuals who helped me along the way.