‘Life is about how we can enhance society’
Arun Gandhi is a lifelong advocate for his grandfather’s ideals. He was sent to India aged 12 to live on the famous ashram of Mahatma Gandhi just two years before his assassination. ‘Waste is violence’, ‘humility is strength’ and ‘anger can be good’ were just three of the lessons he learned there.
Now 83, Arun Gandhi frequently writes and lectures on the philosophy of nonviolence. He speaks to Danielle Batist about technology, Trump and solitude.
Danielle Batist: Your grandfather once said ‘Anger to people is like gas to the automobile – it fuels you to move forward and get to a better place’. Why did you choose to focus on anger in your new book?
Arun Gandhi: Lately there has been so much violence going on all over the world and most of it is generated by anger. I think that anger is not something we need to abuse – if we learned to use it constructively and intelligently, we would reduce violence.
When we abuse anger, we don’t deal with the problem; we deal with the person. An example of this is World War Two: we got rid of the army and Hitler but we didn’t get rid of the philosophy of hate and prejudice, which continues to torment us.
What do think of the way terrorism is being used to justify aggressive policing and military action?
We know from history that we’ve never solved any problems by fighting wars and killing people. We only postpone problems and they get worse as time goes on. Terrorism is a very good example of this. We continue to fight it violently yet we are not resolving the issue, because for every one terrorist that we kill, we are creating ten more.
The way we can solve it is by looking at what creates this problem: how people get along with others. Our materialistic lifestyle means we exploit people for personal gain. This kind of attitude exists between governments as well as between people – creating a situation where people are tired of being oppressed and exploited and they resort to violence.
What role do you see fear playing in this?
Unfortunately, we seek to dominate and control through fear. That has been engrained in us for generations. At home we control our children through fear of punishment, and as adults this is how the government controls us.
We must get over that and create a better understanding of our relationships with people. We need to look at each other as human beings, not defining people by religion, race or country. These divisions that we have created lead to competition and violence.
Why are people so susceptible to fear?
We are all guilty of it because we don’t know each other and we are suspicious. When we give shelter to refugees, we just bring them in to our countries and leave them to find their own way. They are often not able to navigate the situation and nobody wants to help them. Instead, everyone starts having prejudices and becomes unaccepting.
You talk in your book about how we violate the environment through materialism. How can we correct this?
We have become steeped in our own life. As long as it doesn’t affect us directly we don’t take any notice. Only when something hurts us directly do we wake up and want to do something about it. We need to look at what our actions are going to do to the world and to future generations, and be responsible.
You live in the US where President Donald Trump is taking things in the opposite direction. Do you still have hope?
I do see a lot of change at the grassroots level. It is only when the people at the ‘bottom’ change that change will follow at the ‘top’. Every year I take a group of people to India on a Gandhi legacy tour where we visit the projects of people who have dedicated their lives to others and have made a tremendous difference to millions. This is the kind of thing that we need to do on a large scale, everywhere.
What would you say to the people who call for putting ‘Britain first’ or ‘America first’?
These are very narrow-minded perspectives and the only way we can deal with this is by educating people and making them aware. I visit a lot of universities around the world and I see that young people have a greater compassion and understanding of our relationship with the rest of the world. I have hope that the next generation brings change in society’s attitude.
Your latest book has a lesson on solitude. Is that possible in today’s ever-connected world?
It is about deciding what is important. We have to take time out to reflect on what is happening in our life and whether we are on the right track or not. If we don’t, we just flow along and go wherever the tide takes us. That is not a wonderful existence. If we are not masters of ourselves and do not control our own behaviour and attitude, then we cannot control the world.
Tech companies know how our brain responds to impulses. Many young people are addicted to the instant satisfaction from notifications and phones buzzing in our pockets. Do we still have a choice?
Technology needs to be used in moderation just like eating and drinking. The market today wants to control our lives. We become victims of these products and go deeper and deeper into the hole.
Ultimately, we need to think: is our life our own or are we living it for someone else? We don’t need to make our life faster, but more meaningful.
Technology makes us acutely aware of all the problems in the world. How do we avoid paralysis?
If we have the expectation of changing the whole world overnight, we don’t have power. Individually, we are limited, but we do have the power to change ourselves and to change people around us and we should be willing to do that. If all of us do that, ultimately the change will come. We build up these high expectations, we say we want to change the world and when we fail to do that, we give up and say: ‘this is useless’.
Your grandfather worried that ‘the people will follow me in life, worship me in death, but not make my cause their cause’. Do you ever ask yourself the same question?
I am hoping that some people will continue with this work. But as long as we are trapped in this materialistic lifestyle, we won’t really make the big change that is required in the world today. It is a question of how do we get people to stop? We need to understand that making money and possessing things is not the only thing in life. Life is about how we can enhance society with our presence.
Danielle Batist is a freelance journalist who writes about social change and solutions.
The new book by Arun Gandhi, The Gift of Anger, is out now, published by Gallery/Jeter Publishing.
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