Are Gandhi's teachings still relevant in today's world?
‘Too many people are experimenting with war and violence. We need more people experimenting with peace and non-violence.’ This clear thought came to me when visiting Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram (memorial) a few years ago. Gandhi had a workable methodology for countering violence with non-violence. Today, we need to teach solution focused activities for positive change. So now I experiment with lessons in peace-building – through The Gandhi Experiment.
In my student workshop, Global Citizenship – it starts with us! I ask my teenage participants, ‘What are our current big global issues?’ It doesn’t matter which country I am in, Australia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia – or wherever these participants are from – Kashmir, Timor Leste, Vietnam, Malaysia, Afghanistan - they name the same things: war and conflict; poverty; domestic violence; asylum seekers and displaced peoples; global warming; greed; over-competitiveness; terrorism; inequality; corruption; discrimination – religious, gender-based, Islamophobia. On occasion they even name a world leader as a global issue!
Every item in their list is a form of violence – violence to others and violence to our planet. And then comes the realization – at a deep and intrinsic level, these all pertain to violence to ourselves.
At The Gandhi Experiment, we don’t study Gandhi, the man himself, per se. What we do examine is the essence of his messages. To keep it simple, easily learnt and applied, I teach our teenagers what I call the ‘three plus one model’. Essentially, Gandhi stood on three platforms:
1. In conflict situations, always choose non-violence as a conscious choice.
2. ‘Satyagraha’, Gandhi’s word for your 'truth-force' or 'soul-force.' Yet when ‘my truth’ does not match ‘your truth’, we always revert to the first platform, to choose a non-violent method to sort out our differences.
3. The third one is oh-so-relevant to us all today. Gandhi would sit and pray each morning and night. Thoughts would come in; insights and wisdoms that paved the way forward. Then, Gandhi would get off his backside and take action. There it is, the third platform - action. How often do we sit around the dinner table, whinging and whining, blaming the rest of the word for all its problems? Yet we fail to take the actions required to meet real change head on.
And the ‘Plus one’? The over-arching theme that encompasses all three of the ‘platforms’ is to profoundly understand that ‘Change begins with me.’
Gandhi is often quoted as having said the famous line, ‘Be the change you want to see in this world.’ Now a little digging research will tell you, he didn’t say exactly that. To paraphrase, what he did say was, ‘If you can change yourself, the world around you will change.’
Sit for a moment and breath that thought in to your being. If, in mid-screaming match with your teenager or in a heated dispute with a co-worker - what is the change that you can make to effect the change you want to see in this world? If you can change your own behavior, then the world around you will change as well.
It doesn’t mean giving in, or giving up. But it does mean giving – respect, understanding and listening – even at your most troublesome times. And sometimes it means giving all of these things to yourself – respect, understanding and deep listening.
I apply the learning through Gandhian philosophy, making it relevant to today’s context. Here are just a few examples:
1. ‘Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong’ underpins The Best Forgiveness Role Play Ever.
2. ‘The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed’ underpins the Dinner Party to Save the World.
3. Respect at all times – even for your enemy. ‘It’s always been a mystery to me how people can respect themselves when they humiliate other humans’ underpins Collaborative Debating. I once had a young man, 15 years old, who said to me, ‘We should ask your enemy, what is your truth?’ A young Gandhi in the making.
4. ‘The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear,’ underpins a break-out workshop I run with adults: ‘Why should you never use fear to control a classroom? Why should you never use fear to control your home? Why should you never use fear to control a country?’
And so, so much more.
I often ask myself, why is it that our kids seem to know more about Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein than they do about Mohandas Gandhi? Why aren’t we taking the lessons of Gandhi, Mandela and King and using them more effectively in our classrooms? Let’s don’t study them as people of history; let’s study them as lessons for the present. It’s time for us to put these lessons into action.
Peace building is an attribute of the strong.
Will you whisper peace with me?