Why Gandhi is still relevant today

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The Mahatma’s message can guide everyday life as well as global affairs

This year marks the 67th anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. For the past four years, the University of NSW and the Australia India Institute at the University have marked the day with a Remembrance Ceremony and an invited speaker to present the Gandhi Oration. Seeing the bust of Gandhiji on one side and Nelson Mandela on the other side of the UNSW library lawn brings a feeling of immense pride and inspiration that the principle of non-violence can achieve lasting results.

Gandhi.Indian Link

The invited speakers come from a broad spectrum of society. Pat Dodson, the well-known Aboriginal elder; Tom Keneally, the award winning author, and Michael Kirby, the outspoken and sometimes controversial judge were speakers during previous years.

Last year, the oration was delivered by Ela Gandhi, a soft voiced lady who spoke with firmness and conviction echoing the life of her grandfather. She is convinced that more than ever, that Gandhiji’s example is relevant in everyday living as much as it is in global affairs.

This year, Peter Greste was the speaker. He is the journalist accused of spying and was imprisoned in Egypt until global pressure made the Egyptian government relent and release him. Journalists are the medium through which the world learns about the atrocities perpetrated in the name of religion or ideologies at home and abroad. Greste’s examples of freedom of expression based on facts should be a wake-up call to many journalists to check their facts and their authenticity before writing.

His exposition of three Gandhian principles – non-cooperation with anything that is humiliating, self-expression, particularly freedom of speech, and the over-riding principle of truth – was brilliant. The rapt audience in the full hall were spellbound as Greste’s talk flowed effortlessly.

How does one apply the principles of non-violence in everyday life? The most effective teaching of Gandhiji is in his status as a role model. The importance of translating one’s belief into action is so vital in everyday life. Without the living proof illustrated by each one of us, values stand to be discounted.

Gandhi.Indian Link

“When someone slaps you on one cheek, show him the other.” Metaphorically, this could be taken to mean one should not retaliate using violence against violence. As responsible adults, we may follow this advice in simple ways every day, such as by ignoring hostile verbal remarks, by not using sarcastic and vilifying language, by listening more attentively and, above all, by showing respect to all irrespective of age, religion, colour of the skin or gender.

These days, society as a whole is very conscious of protecting animals, whether in the wild or as pets. We go to great lengths to protect endangered species. Yet, in many instances, we ignore the plight of our own fellow humans. The disparity in wealth between the haves and have-nots is getting wider. The sense of selfishness is growing exponentially and a sense of powerlessness pervades the millions who comprise the ‘have-nots’.

Human values are dropping off at the wayside. No more does the selfless, compassionate helping hand reach out to the poor and disadvantaged. Yes, at an individual level, many are generous and altruistic, but there are those who do not share, even within their own families. At the systemic global level, exploitation of the disadvantaged is prominent. The given wealth of the world, be it minerals, fuel or water, is more than enough to share, but the spirit of sharing is sadly non-existent on the world stage. Countries, sects and geographical borders divide and rule.

Great men like Gandhiji and Mandela lived their values of non-violence, compassion, non-sectarianism in their daily life. Gandhiji was adamant that everyone followed the same rules, be it his wife or daughter or son or a high ranking official.

An adult’s behaviour in a domestic situation is a most powerful lesson. Education of the younger generation to behave with compassion and respect begins at home. Role-modelling is the best teacher.

behaviour modelling.Indian Link

‘Do as I say and not as I do,’ is a commonly illustrated example in many homes. Sadly, the lesson learnt is perpetrated generation after generation because what is said is not what is shown in action. If children have to show respect, they need to see adults practising such respect. Giving has to be shown in the sharing they see around them.

Living by the principles of non-violence, truth and fairness can be followed if we put our minds to it. In simple, every day actions and words we can express these ideals very effectively. It requires conviction, courage and the readiness to defend these principles. Far too many of us, for far too long, have shied away from acting on these principles ‘to keep the peace’ or the notion that ‘one person acting in isolation is not going to change the world.’ It can. A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

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Dr Saroja Srinivasan
is a western trained clinical psychologist by profession; has been living in Sydney for over 40 years; interested in wisdom traditions in particular Indian philosophy and how it can inform us to lead a happy life; in her columns she has tried to synthesise her personal and professional experiences in dealing with everyday situations