On October 3rd, I had the opportunity to sit down with Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who has followed his grandfather’s footsteps as a peace activist and a proponent of non-violence.
Just sitting in the same room with him, as he shared his memories of living with his grandfather for 18 months at the age of 12, I could tell that years later, the lessons he learned as a child still resonate with him and ultimately serve to guide him in his path to change the world for the better.
I think that his success as a change-maker is in large part due to the fact that he combines his powerful presence and his grandfather’s wisdom, with his past as a victim of bullying in understanding what it is like to feel anger and how to channel it in a positive way. Moreover, he reminds us of not only the overwhelming presence of violence in the world, but also our role in reinforcing it.
I read about your 18th month stay with your grandfather. That must have been incredible. What is your most memorable lesson?
“I think all of the lessons that he taught me during those 18 months were very important lessons, but I think that the most important one that I feel today is about understanding anger and being able to use it constructively and intelligently because today we all get angry and we abuse anger and this causes more conflict and violence. It’s very important for us to understand is that anger is natural; what is not natural is the way that we abuse it. He taught me that anger is like electricity, just powerful and just as useful but only if we use it intelligently. So just as we channel electricity and we bring it into our lives we must learn to channel anger in the same way so that we can use it intelligently and constructively.”
What would be one way of utilizing the lesson of using anger intelligently and constructively in our every day lives?
“Well, my own example, for instance, is that I suffered a lot of prejudices in South Africa, both physically and mentally. I wanted an “eye for an eye” revenge because I was so angry. After my grandfather taught me this lesson (of using anger intelligently and constructively) and I reflected on it I realized that fighting back is not the answer, what I need to do was to devote my life to changing people’s perceptions and getting rid of the prejudices and so on. So, I made it my life’s mission to transform people.
What fuels your passion for your life’s work at the moment? Is it, perhaps your memories with your grandfather?
That 18th month stay, of course, plays a very significant part of it and the other part is that I have a very important legacy and I don’t want to just live with it for myself, and I want to share it with as many people as possible. That legacy has made such a tremendous difference in my life and I am sure that if I share it, it will make a difference in people’s lives.
Fostering an understanding of non-violence is a process. What would you say is the first step that is necessary to make that change?
“Well, first of all we have to recognize what we talk about when we say “violence” and what we really mean by “violence.” We have created a whole culture of violence around us that has been going around for centuries for now, and it has become so deep-rooted, that every aspect of human life is governed by the culture of violence. Our speech has become violent, our sports are violent, our entertainment is violent. Everything about us is violence. So in that culture of violence, what needs to be done is transform that culture of violence to a culture of non-violence. Simply, conflict resolution (for example), whenever there is a war and whenever there is fighting on the streets, by saying ‘we need to put an end to it,’ that’s not enough because physical violence is a manifestation of the passive violence that is exists in us. All of us, whether we understand or not, or whether we recognize or not, we are committing violence all the time – passively, non-physically by the way that we relate to people or the way that we discriminate or all of the hundreds of things that we do. So, unless we recognize all of the weaknesses in ourselves and transform those weaknesses, we will not change and if we don’t change, society is not going to change. So we have to do that introspection and make those changes ourselves.”