Lecturer and author Arun Gandhi, grandson of nonviolent leader Mahatma Gandhi, gave a speech on Thursday, Sept. 20, at Temple Ambler, in which he stressed the importance of understanding, compassion and diversity.
“When we see [homeless] on the street, we are usually acting out of pity, instead of compassion,” Gandhi said. “By giving money, we are saying ‘Get out of my face’ instead of asking why that person is there in the first place.”
During his speech, Gandhi took a moment to speak about the recent attacks and asked that people stop and think before making what could be rash decisions.
“For centuries we have lived with hate and violence and prejudice. We still live with hate and violence because we don’t know how to deal with it,” he said. “Justice should mean reformation, not revenge.”
He followed up by retelling the story of his grandfather’s struggle in South Africa.
“They would beat him physically and threw him off railway cars,” Gandhi said.
That was when his grandfather discovered how to deal with violent situations nonviolently.
Gandhi studied with his grandfather from 1945 to 1947. In that time, he learned what most people only read about in books.
To the Muslim students on campus who fear the continuation of ethnic backlash, Gandhi suggested staging a peaceful protest. He tells them to overcome their fear and know that the sacrifices they make will result in a peaceful turnaround.
When he was a child living in South Africa, Gandhi was also beaten for being neither black nor white. He enrolled in fighting and weight training classes to learn how to fight. It was at this point, his parents decided to send him to live with his grandfather in India.
“Grandfather taught the greatest lesson — to understand anger and use it positively,” Gandhi said. “He told me to write an anger journal … to find a solution, not just get it out because when you read it, all you do is relive the anger.”
Gandhi related anger to electricity — deadly when abused, but powerful and helpful when used intelligently.
The key to peace and nonviolence is building relationships. From his grandfather, Gandhi learned that most relationships are built upon false foundations of selfishness and self-interest. “Relationships must be built upon four principles: respect, unity, acceptance and appreciation.”
“We must look at human beings as human beings and not labels. You name it, we have a label for it. Labels are for building walls and keeping people away. Every wall is a potential for violence,” Gandhi said. “We seem to think that we are not a part of this creation. Our purpose is not to create and destroy.”
In 1991, Gandhi and his wife Sunada created the M.K. Gandhi Center for Nonviolence based in Memphis, Tenn. Gandhi funded the project by selling his grandfather’s letters to his father, Manilal. The institute is hosted by The Christian Brothers University and offers offices to organizations working for nonviolence.
During a trip to the poverty-stricken areas of India, Gandhi’s fellow travelers stayed in a hotel. When one asked him if they could leave because she could see the slums from her window, Gandhi told her, “You were given a windows to the other half of the world and now you want to run away? Feel guilty and do something.”
And that is what he encourages people to do — act and reach out a helping hand to people in Third World countries.