Monday, September 14, 2009

FAMILY TIES Borrowing ideas from Gandhi — for renewal and reconciliation

Originally Published in the Centre Daily Times, January 31, 2009

Mahatma Gandhi is honored all over the world as a champion of truth and nonviolence, teachings that still have value today, when both fresh violence and economic crisis have gripped the world.

As the world this week marks the 61st anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination, the United States finds itself at the end of a momentous journey — from the birth of the nation in 1776 to the end of slavery, the civil rights movement and the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Arun Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, who gave the keynote talk at Penn State’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 21, said he considers this historic inauguration a testament to the power of nonviolence to create change in the relatively short span of 60 years.

Many who were involved in this journey, figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, were directly inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi’s writings showed King that the power of love could be effective not just in individual relationships but also for creating political change. With his Christian ideals as background, and the Mahatma’s techniques, King became a powerful proponent of nonviolence.

Gandhi espoused a life of simplicity and integrity and valued the use of honest means to achieve any result.

Can Gandhi’s ideals of love, sacrifice, truth and nonviolence work for the United States and the rest of the world today? Gandhi’s grandson thinks so.

Arun, who was born and raised in South Africa, hated his childhood under apartheid, where he was beaten up by blacks and whites for being the wrong color. When he began to consider fighting back as an option, his parents sent 12-year-old Arun to live with his grandfather in India to learn about nonviolence.

The lessons below, which Arun learned from his grandfather, may provide some fresh guidance as Americans deal with the economic crisis and wars abroad and reflect on President Obama’s first proclamation: Declaring Jan. 20 a “National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation” and calling upon all to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this nation.

Understanding nonviolence
Nonviolence is an active philosophy, based on positive feelings such as respect, understanding, compassion and acceptance, Arun said. Violence is based on negative feelings such as hate, greed, jealousy and anger.
Nonviolence requires courage to stand up against injustice and accept the consequences.

Anger-Violence Connection
Arun recalls his grandfather asking him to create a genealogy tree, with violence at the head, and two branches — Active violence (killing, beating, pushing) and Passive violence (hating, name calling, stereotyping, wasting resources).
Recording his acts of violence daily on this tree made Arun realize how much passive violence he committed each day. His grandfather explained that the objects of his passive violence could resort to active violence and perpetuate a vicious cycle. He showed Arun how he could break the cycle of violence by being aware of and stopping his own acts of passive violence.

Nonviolent parenting
Arun offered an example from his youth. At 16, he had to drive his father 18 miles to Durbin for a conference and had to pick him up at 5 p.m. for the drive back home.
Arun was late because he went to see a movie. And then he got caught lying to his father about it.
His father did not shout at him. Instead, he told Arun, “There must be something wrong with the way I raised you that you did not have the confidence to tell me the truth.”
His father decided to do penance by walking the 18 miles home to figure out where he went wrong. Arun was miserable and chose to follow his father in his car as night fell. He also resolved to never lie again.
“What if I had been punished?” he asks. “I would perhaps have lied again but made sure that I did not get caught.” He believes that his father taught him a more powerful lesson with love than if punishment had been used.

Arun Gandhi’s tips for daily life
•“Keep a diary — understand your own acts of violence, including hating, putting down, stereotyping others and wasting resources.”
•“Be your own role model — imagine you are climbing a ladder, each day do a little better than yesterday.”
•“Put aside some money daily, even as little as a quarter. After a year, figure out a way to impact someone else’s life with it.”
•“Teach children at all schools to identify their anger, understand their capacity to commit active and passive violence and to break the cycle of violence.”
•“Shed labels — based on gender, religion and even on country — as patriotism too is a narrow idea and can sometimes be a cause of violence.”
•“We can think of the world as a global village, but we need to consider social and cultural globalization in all our global interactions in the global economy.”
Current work

Be the change you wish to see in this world
Arun and his late wife, Sunanda Gandhi, founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence to promote the principles of nonviolence. In January 2008, he resigned from the institute after a negative reaction to a piece he penned for the Washington Post. Today, Gandhi is invited to talk about nonviolence around the world and works to help children out of poverty via education through his institution, The Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute. ( Arun has authored several books, including his grandmother’s biography, “The Forgotten Woman: The Untold Story of Kastur Gandhi, Wife of Mahatma Gandhi.”

No comments: