Gandhi is one of my heroes. I use the word “heroes” with caution. No one is perfect and we can be tempted to idolise. But there can be no doubt that Mahatma Gandhi was a remarkable man. People have written books about him, many films have been made about him including the well-known film directed by Richard Attenborough.
I will not attempt to retell the story but wish to explain why he is one of my heroes and to see what we can learn from him.
He was brave
Gandhi was the bravest man I’ve ever heard of. He did not shrink back from being beaten or being imprisoned for what he believed. When he was in court and charged with sedition he told the British judge that he was guilty as charged and that the judge had no alternative but to send him to prison.
When I compare myself with his bravery I realise that I fall far short. Would I be prepared to go to prison in defence of the rights of other people?
When there was fighting and much loss of life between Hindus and Muslims he knew that he had to do something dramatic to stop the violence. He said that he would not eat again until the fighting had completely stopped. The news spread that he was dying and in mosques and Hindu temples the word went out that the killing had to stop. Only when he was convinced that there was no further fighting did he agree to eat again.
Am I prepared to give my life for the community in which I live so that there will be harmony between people of different races, religions and cultures?
A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act. (Gandhi referring to Jesus Christ)
He was a man of vision
You must be the change you wish to see in the world. (Attributed to Gandhi)
Gandhi was a man of great vision. He saw a world where the Indian people would be free to control their own destiny. Having perceived a change he wished to see he set about trying to achieve it. He understood the system. He knew the British could only rule by oppression and control. He realised to oppose oppression with violence was bound to fail. With the weapon of non-violent civil disobedience he took on the might of the British Empire and won.
Question: do I see things clearly and do I put them into practice to live in a better world?
He saw poverty for what it is.
Poverty is the worst form of violence. (Gandhi)
Gandhi realised that one of the techniques of oppression used by the British Empire was to destroy village life and create extreme poverty on an alarming scale. Gandhi did not accept poverty as normal but realised that it was used as a tool for creating wealth for the privileged few. Poverty is a form of violence because it affects not just the poor people of the whole family, the children and future generations.
In a world of limited resources, how do we see poverty today? Poverty does not just happen, it exists because of the greed of others and a basic injustice in the way we treat other human beings. Poverty is not just something which needs relief and charity but is an injustice which must be fought.
He was a man of justice and compassion
Gandhi stood up for the rights of people who had been marginalised by society in India. He saw women as equal human beings and citizens. He refused to accept the idea that some people are effectively subhuman because they belonged to a different caste. In his community he took his turn at clearing out the latrines, a task normally performed only by the “untouchables”.
He respected the teachings of Jesus, but what he saw of Christianity didn’t seem to match up to the high standard of the words and life of Jesus.
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. (Attributed to Gandhi)
Do we claim to follow Jesus Christ? Are we prepared to take seriously what he taught? Are the principles of love and justice motivators in our lives? Do people look at us and see something of Jesus in our lives?
He hated violence
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind. (Attributed to Gandhi)
What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy? (Gandhi)
Gandhi hated violence. So often those seeking freedom or independence resort to violence. They become freedom fighters or terrorists depending on your point of view. Gandhi’s achievement was not just in practising nonviolence himself but persuading millions of Indians to use the same technique.
He was an optimist
When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. (Gandhi)
Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. (Gandhi)
Gandhi was an optimist. When it looked impossible that the British Empire would ever grant independence to the people of India he set about to prove that the impossible could become the possible. He did despair at times but was convinced that finally truth and love would win.
A final note
Nobody can hurt me without my permission. (Gandhi)
If we do not give permission to people they cannot hurt us. But we cannot hold everyone at arm’s length. If we have an open nature, we give that permission to our family, our close friends and perhaps our colleagues. To close our hearts to the whole world would damage us, more than the potential hurt which can come through having an open heart. The question is this: when we are hurt by someone close to us, how do we react? Are we prepared to talk through what has hurt us, and forgive where necessary, or do we close our heart to them to avoid being hurt again?