Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Wisdom of Arun Gandhi

Icon, visionary, and bridge to the teachings of his grandfather Mahatma  Gandhi,  Arun Gandhi brought his universal message of respect and non-violence my area this weekend. With quiet passion Gandhi urged us all to find a place of compassion inside ourselves, and to always seek understanding in the face of conflict.

Continuously stressing his grandfather’s message: “We must be the change we wish to see in others,” Arun Gandhi called upon all of us to continuously live the principals of non-violence as an active, dynamic, preventive process – a far cry from the passive images the word “non-violence” sometimes connotes.

Gandhi addressed the issue of bullying on Saturday and urges students to protect and support peers who are bullied. Born in Durban, South Africa in 1934, Dr. Gandhi himself is no stranger to bullying. “I was beaten by white people for being too black, and I was beaten by black people for being too white.” Angered by these experiences, he learned from his legendary grandfather to channel the energy of anger into positive action, and he’s been teaching people to do this ever since.

By choosing to act with respect, regardless of how one’s opponent is behaving, Gandhi says we have the power to both short-circuit the cycle of violence and maintain our dignity. “Anger is like electricity,” his grandfather taught. “It can be just as deadly if we abuse it.” Dr. Gandhi revealed his own strategies for transforming the energy of anger into positive action:

  • Keep an anger journal. Mahatma Gandhi taught Arun to do this when he was young, and now he recommends it everywhere he goes. He cautions, however, that the journal must not be used simply to vent. The intention must be to find solutions to the problem. Herein lies the transformative power.
  • Do “mental exercises” to quiet the mind, such as silence and meditation. By doing so, Gandhi says we start to gain control over the reactive nature of our minds. When faced with anger, the control we develop through our practices enables us to choosea response in the face of anger, rather than simply react. Doing so can spell the difference between escalation and resolution.
  • Set an intention to be compassionate, kind, and respectful under all circumstances. Non-violence, Gandhi says, can’t be something we do only when we’re in the mood. We must live it daily though our words, actions, and the choices we make moment to moment. Changing the aggressive nature of our world depends on each of us. Says Gandhi, “If we don’t change, society will never change.”
  • Teach children responsibility through kindness and respect, not punishment. This is how Dr. Gandhi was raised, and the lessons his parents taught with quiet dignity remain with him to this day. He strongly urges parents to get off the fast track and spend more time with their kids, not indulging them, but lovingly guiding them through their own example of kindness, compassion, respect, and restraint in the face of anger.

Dr. Gandhi believes our schools need to change too. “Our education system is so geared toward teaching kids how to ‘succeed’ that we forget about building character. Children need to learn to understand and appreciate differences.” This, Gandhi believes, is the key to ending bullying.

He warned about the “passive violence” of emotional bullying. High School sophomore, Kaitlin Junod, who attended the Saturday workshop, sees a lot of emotional bullying at her school, especially among girls. “You don’t think of passive violence as much as physical violence,” says, Kaitlin, “but it can be just as harmful.” Fellow sophomore, Emily Hartwell, agrees but thinks it’s hard to intervene when someone you don’t know very well is being bullied -- you don’t want to end up being the target yourself.

Sixteen year-old Dustin Todd agrees that’s it’s harder to intervene with kids you don’t know, but says he always intervenes when friends are bullied. “Always be kind to people,” is his guiding principal. The lesson he learned at a Quaker school when he was young still sticks.

So what can we do to alleviate bullying in schools? Dr. Gandhi says this: “We all have to work together to support and protect each other. Do it not with physical violence, but with love and understanding.” He believes that the more kids and teachers who serve as upstanders, the less bullying we’ll see. “If you respond with violence, they (bullies) have greater power over you. If you respond with love and respect, they get lost and don’t know what to do.” Banding together for the common good, and teaching lessons in compassion all the way through may be our greatest hope. By doing so we may well live Mahatma Gandhi’s vision, becoming the change we wish to see in others.

A living treasure whose message we must heed.

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