Marianne Williamson or Nelson Mandela?

“Our worst 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. We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be so brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are we not to be? You are a child of God: Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” This quote is cited as being written by Marianne Williamson by some, and by Nelson Mandela by others.

I have heard that this quote has been widely misattributed to Marianne Williamson and is in fact a quote by Nelson Mandela. I originally set out to find which of Nelson Mandela’s speeches included this quote, since all references I had seen only cited Mandela’s name, but not a specific speech or other resource. Due to the potential lack of credibility of information on the internet, I decided to research further and see what the majority of websites were saying.

Internet Discussion Groups and Forums

To my surprise, I found numerous postings and websites referencing Williamson as the author of the quote.
According to Ric Beattie, this quote is one of the greatest urban legends of “all time.”

“Interestingly, I have researched Mr. Mandela’s inaugural speeches (there were several) and have not found any reference to his ever having spoken these words. This frequent misquotation is one of the all-time greatest urban legends.”
~ Ric Beattie

In addition to the overwhelming numbers of sites I found, Wikipedia also cites Marianne as the author of the famous quote. The following excerpt was taken from a Wikipedia search for Nelson Mandela.

“The following famous text by Marianne Williamson is often claimed to have been spoken by Mandela at his inauguration as President of South Africa. This is an urban myth; there is no record of Mandela ever having spoken these words in public:”

Nelson Mandela’s Speeches

The general consensus is that Mandela spoke the words during his inaugural speech. Two links below have the speeches, as given in two different locations, but neither include the famous quote.

Cape Town, 9 May 1994
Pretoria, 10 May 1994

Marianne Williamson’s Book

Some believe that the words were in fact spoken by Nelson Mandela as he quoted Marianne Williamson. Williamson states this hypothesis herself:

“Dear Bill,
Yep, that writing is two paragraphs from my l992 book “A RETURN TO LOVE.”(In the WORK section, in a chapter called PERSONAL POWER) Seeing it printed everywhere as a Nelson Mandela quote has been a rather strange experience… he definitely did not quote it in his inaugural, by the way. I have heard that he used the material in a lesser speech (so said his office), but I have never seen the text, so I don’t know what the context or attribution was.
Thanks for the compliment.
Please keep visiting.
My best,

The proof is in the pudding…Marianne’s book Return with love which unanimously states the quote was written in 1992. Nelson assumed leadership as the State President of South Africa in 1994, when he became better known. More importantly, after all of my research I could not find any hard evidence that Nelson was the original author of the quote, nor could I find any source that actually stated the place and time that Mandela said the words.

Some believe that Mandela would never have said such a quote.

“Frankly, I think it would sound really weird coming from his lips. Knowing the course his own life has taken, and having read speeches of his (including the inaugurals), both the style and content of this Williamson quote are a mismatch. It’s just not his schtick. This point was driven home by the following analysis:

People! Please! Nelson Mandela never said this. Nelson Mandela never even thought it. Nelson Mandela had bigger fish to fry at his Inauguration than worrying about the brilliance, gorgeousness, fabulousness or talent of anyone, including himself. (I mean really, can you imagine him standing before all of South Africa and nattering on about this stuff? “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”? How about “Our deepest fear is that we will be dragged from our beds and shot? Oy.)” [UPDATE (5/29/07): That page no longer exists]

How Did This Misunderstanding All Start?

So where would such an enormous misunderstanding come from? One web surfer offers a probable explanation:

I just stumbled across this forum while looking for this quote. I am almost sure that I heard an NPR (probably “All Things Considered”) news report about Nelson Mandela’s inaugural address in which we either heard Nelson Mandela say these words or they were attributed to him. I probably heard this report either at the time of his address or within a year after the address.

Hearing these words on the radio made a big impression on me and I have tried to find the original quotation unsuccessfully before. I just found out that these words are really Marianne Williamson’s. The irony is that I bought Marianne’s book, A Return to Love when it first came out and read it cover to cover. That book inspired me probably more than any other book I had ever read. The thought of Nelson Mandela speaking them to the South African people and to the world – if in fact he actually did that – has always been a beautiful image for me.” – “paul sawyer


My conclusion is that there is much more evidence to support that Marianne Williamson is the original author of the “Our Worst fear is not that we are inadequate” quote. You may make your own conclusion. In closing I leave you with this:

One man wrote to the African National Congress (ANC) asking if Mandela had ever quoted it in any speech. Duncan Harford, an ANC representative, replied:

“We are aware that these words have for some years now been attributed to Nelson Mandela on the internet. We do not know how this happened.

These words appear in [neither] inaugural speeches and…[in none] of the other speeches, statements and writings by Mr. Mandela .

Regards Duncan

13 thoughts on “Marianne Williamson or Nelson Mandela?

  1. “Marianne’s book Return with love which unanimously states the quote was written in 1992”

    You don’t need to take anyone’s word for this. You can view it on the page for yourself through Amazon’s “search inside the book” feature.

    That’s “Return to Love”, by the way, not “with”.

  2. lets be honest when the hippies and liberals go to thier alternative store and want to buy a postcard they feel better vibes when the quote is associated to Mandella.

  3. I believe Mandela expressed a very similar sentiment, but in different words. Mandela’s quote was less focused on God, and more focused on the message that you should never be afraid of embarassing someone by being right.

    I was searching for Mandela’s quote when I found this post. Does anyone know of the quote I write?

  4. Attention, honesty fans: the power of “hippies” to shape the landscape of common knowledge (or misinformation), while certainly beyond measure, is no greater than anyone else’s.

  5. It was obviously written by Marianne Williamson. If it had not been, it could not have been printed in Return to Love and sold as a book written by her, due to copyright infringment laws.

  6. In Julia Cameron’s book “Heart Steps” published in 1997, Nelson Mandela, on page 4 is given credit as the author of the quote. Having read several times, Marianne Wiliamson’s “Return to Love” I did not think this was correct. Her book was published in 1992 and the quote is on p.190.

  7. He used the quote before a crowd gathered to hear him in the LA coliseum back in the 90’s right after his inaugural.

  8. This quote was not inspiration of either of the two.

    This is a poem writing by Hafiz Shariyi in 1368 year, Hafiz lived in the place where Iran is today.You can go to wiki

    1. Mercedes,

      I have not heard that. Thank you for bringing that up. I bet a lot of people have said similar things through out the ages. I would love to see the original text, the language and the original translation into English.

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