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30 January 2008

Good Grief, Gandhi

60 years ago today "Great Soul" Gandhi took 3 bullets in the chest and was pronounced DRT (Dead Right There). Oddly, for a Hindi, his last words were: "Oh, God"...

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was 78 years old at the time and while I'm sure it hurt like hell, I suspect he died at peace knowing that he was doing what was he was the most passionate about: spreading a message of non-violence. If there is an afterlife, I'm quite sure the irony has not escaped him.

For those not familiar with the little dude, he is notable for a) looking like Ben Kingsley with a haircut and b) promoting 'resistance to evil through active, non-violent resistance' all over the world. All while wearing a robe. Nobody had the panache and the ability to pull that off like the G-Man.

As an aside - and as a card carrying cynic - it is not always a fair characterization to say that Gandhi's calling cards of non-cooperation, civil disobedience and peaceful resistance, however effective they may be at times, are really all that peaceful. Protesting for one's belief can create major and costly disruptions for innocent others (businesses, uninvolved citizens, etc.) and over-burden the systems that insure one's safe protest (fire, police, traffic, sanitation, etc.). To many of us, that is not very peaceful at all.

But I digress...

Martin Luther King, Jr., another civil rights shootee, was a big fan of Gandhi and tried to mirror his own peace movement after Gandhi. By most accounts, however, MLK must have gotten his racist entitled views and alleged infidelity from someone other than Gandhi.

But there is much more to the story of the Mahatma than that.

Gandhi was forced into marriage at age 13, had five children that all died as infants, was pressured into being a lawyer and never had the pleasure of knowing what a Quarter Pounder with Cheese tastes like. As a follower of Hindu, he agreed to not eat meat. But did you know that his zeal for vegetarianism was because he disliked the mutton and cabbage at his English boarding school? His association with vegetarians led him to hooking up with a religious based outfit that preached something called Theosophy. What? Well, Theosophites among other things practiced a belief in "root races" and believed in them each evolving separately. Yep, that's pretty racist by most definitions. In fact, his group believed that Hebrews and Arabs were a sub class of Aryans. Who would have guessed, eh?

So after law school Gandhi, the veggie eating, racist, lawyer (now, stay with me just a little longer please!) went back home to India. He was unsuccessful in getting a job as a teacher so he started chasing ambulances, ergo, filing complaints on behalf of other aggrieved citizens.

Shortly thereafter, in South Africa, Gandhi had his butt pummelled by a cab driver for refusing to make room for a European. Sound familiar? That was a turning point in his life and the rest, say it together history.

So let's review:

Boy grows up in oppressive, trauma filled childhood, gets pressured by his parents into pursuing a higher education, experiences incredible loss, has his principles challenged in the real world, eats crummy food, fails to get a good job but settles for less, falls into a group of people that prompts him to shape his belief structure, has an, uh, epiphany, uses his life's lessons to solidify the principles that help excel to the top of his chosen field of endeavor, shaves his head, struggles with societal oppression the way he struggled with his childhood oppression, inspires change in the way millions of people think and act, becomes a martyr for his cause, is deified by many generations to come, has a movie made after him...and of course has the honor of being chronicled here at
D3. In most successful people, Gandhi fell down, but kept getting back up.

"Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success."
Dale Carnegie

So, besides the 5 babies dying when you are 13, is there not much difference between your kids, my kids and Farmer John's kids? And for that matter, does his life sound like our own life? We are all a sum of our life's lessons and even though Gandhi's life's lessons are 1/2 a world, a couple of generations and a funny dialect away, they are still eerily similar, dontchathink?

I suppose history is supposed to teach us that Gandhi was superhuman at being humble, grateful and giving; And that is why he is now revered the world over and forever linked to success in civil rights, non violence and baldness. The reality is though that every modicum of his success was preceded by numerous failures, hardships and disappointments.

So I submit that the greatest lessons from his story are the same lessons that have already defined our own stories and that already form the basis of our parenting:

"A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships."
Helen Keller

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Kat Wilder said...

Michael, will you marry me?
Oh, lost it there for a moment...
What a beautiful, well-researched and insightful posting.
If you lived in Marin, you'd be a life coach by now.
Now, I'm going to go out there and fail somehow today ...

Michael M. said...

Hey, thanks Kat. Happy failing! (prehaps a new salutation is in order?)

Life Coach...hmmm. Does that mean I get to, uh, lecture people on their behaviors? Emily says I am good at that! :)

Tismee2 said...

No,no no! Life coaching isn't lecturing! It's encouraging people to identify solutions to their problems.

So you find you are always late for work?

- yes

So what could you do to get there on time?

- set my alarm clock half an hour earlier?

great, there you go, that's £50, thank you very much!

(PS I am a qualified Life Coach although I don't actually do it as a career.)

Michael M. said...

Ah! Dispensing common sense! Perhaps there is a future (though sad there would even be a need). When I was in college I worked at a health club. I helped new members reach their goals. This was common:
What do you want? "to lose weight"
What do you currently do? "eat a bag of chips every night in front of the tv"
Ok, don't do that anymore: "ok"

Voila! Does that qualify as credentials. :)

Tammy said...

I didn't know that much about him. That was really interesting.

Deb in OPKS said...

Ok, I know this is a little off your point, but I love Helen Keller. She has been my hero since childhood. I have read many books about her and "teacher" Annie Sullivan. Such remarkable women! Talk about making something out of a rough start to life.

Michael M. said...

Thanks Tammy....everyone has a back story...and I enjoyed learning about him too...

Michael M. said...

Deb - I'll make sure to quadruple check my facts if ever go down the trail of digging up Ms. Keller's back story! Hmmm...Annie Sullivan. That sounds like a good tale to tell. :)

L.A. Mama said...

This was an awesome post! I love to think...and this one made me think. I studied Theosophy for a couple of years and Madame Blavatsky never said that the Aryan race was white. I never understood her to mean that at all. So, I looked up the word "Aryan" in the dictionary tonight because I couldn't remember what I had learned a few years ago. Here is a link to the definition and the origins of the word:

I truly don't think Theosophy was based on racism after studying it for a couple of years but I am positive that the Nazis used it to promote their twisted agenda. To be brutally honest, "Isis Unveiled" and "The Secret Doctrine" are not easy to read and can easily be misconstrued by others intentionally or unintentionally. I am a highly educated person and even I stumbled over some of the lexicon.

The reason why I studied Theosophy was to search for the Truth. I had read Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Descartes etc and Theosophy seemed interesting.

Sorry for the long comment. What are your thoughts?

Michael M. said...

La Mama: Thank you!