Review of Arun Gandhi Visit to the New York Society for Ethical Culture

Anastasia reports from the presentation on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday by his Grandson.

Notes from event at Ethical  Society

Guest: Arun Gandhi-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the Gandhi-King foundation which may be finding its new home at the Ethical Society in NYC, it wasn’t very clear in the announcement. The foundation is associated with Learn-Lead-Serve which is the active arm promoting the values associated with non-violence. 

Dr. Gandhi spoke for about 30 minutes and unexpectedly, but not disappointedly, it was an event open to all but geared toward children. I find great wisdom in this and immediately saw it as a positive because, when speaking to children, presenters must be basic, clear, and give simple examples to assure comprehension to every child using all methods of processes.  I often think  that the concepts of non-violence, dignity, respect etc… are best communicated, even amongst adults,  in the most simple way so that the understanding is assured and the application of the concepts is aided.  Sometimes, we adults get caught up in concept, theories and thoughts, right?  I’m impatient and like tools to accompany theory! 


Dr Gandhi:  About 87 years of age, raised on a sugar cane field in South Africa and I believe, he said, from age 10 or so, with grandfather. 

He told a story-age 10 or 12, walking home from school, his pencil was now so short, assured that grandfather would give him a new one, tossed his worn pencil. He told grandfather. Grandfather made him go find it in the dark, giving him a flashlight. Lesson:  pencils made from sacrificed trees and so wasting it was violence against nature.  

   Passive Violence:   hurting without physical injury/violence has 2 effects:

Waste of a resource such as food (he claimed that Americans waste more than $1.6 B food every year) or the energy of another. (he gave no example) my example: early in life, when in the supermarket one day with my mom, we decided we didn’t want the cinnamon. I took it out of the carriage and started to just put it anywhere. My mom said, go put it back where we got it. Putting it there will cause a worker here to do extra work and that’s not right for us to do that)                                  and

Passive violence fuels physical violence.

Anger:  very often brings adults shame therefore, they tend not to speak about it to children ergo don’t teach children how to deal with anger.  Anger is like electricity-valuable if used for good, deadly if we do not.   Grandfather made him keep an anger journal. (here, he commented on how many people DO keep an anger journal then go back and read it and just get angry all over again) and in this journal, for every emotion of anger, he had to devise a solution then write a commitment to that solution.

       We need strong control over our minds IF WE WANT TO CHANGE.  Minds do not develop on their own and simply going to (academic) school is not enough. 

        Another exercise…   Pick an item that gives you pleasure.  A flower for example. (I like to look at a lovely photo of Mykonos from the hill at sunrise and remember that day).  LOOK at that thing and that thing only for 5 minutes.  Put it down, then close your eyes and try to focus on that thing. At first, the mind will have trouble doing that, because it is bombarded every day with information and images that the mind has not processed and “filed away” and which distracts us.  However, if we do that daily, in a short time, we can control our minds to focus on one thing at a time. 

   Harvard survey concluded that 80% of violence is caused by anger later regretted. SO, we have to learn to chanel anger into something positive.   We perpetuate ignorance when we apathetically just assume that violence is in our DNA and part of human nature and is just going to happen. (THEN, he spoke to parents, really, not the general population)

      In a non-violent society, parents use penance, not punishment.  ( He used the word guilt but guilt was not the only objective here. It was more actions than words and more of creating a life-long impression and lesson than a matter of temporary conscience and getting grounded for a day)

This is what happened with his parents, for example:

  1. If a child in the family did something wrong (whatever that is, he did not specify), his parents would fast for a day or two and sit at the dinner table and not eat while the child did and they would say “oh, we must fast because we were bad parents if our child did something like that”
  2. One day, when Arun was old enough to drive, he planned to drive into town to see a film.  His mom gave him a grocery list.  He dropped his dad off to a place where he was lecturing but before that, he and his dad made a list of errands he could do since he had the car, like pick up something at hardware store and get the car maintained at the car shop. He agreed to do the errands and pick up his dad at the venue at 6pm.   He did the errands then went to see a John Wayne double feature which ended at 5:30. He picked up his father at 6:30.  Father asked him why he was late, and he lied and said “the car was not ready”.  Father knew he lied as he had called the body shop.  Father refused to get in car with Arun. He insisted on walking the 18 miles home alone in the dark on empty unlit, unsafe roads but Arun, for 6 miles followed his father with the car watching him walk every step of the way. The lesson he learned was how his behavior affected his father (other people) and from that was committed to not lie. 

In closing, Dr Gandhi said, in order to be non-violent, however, we must let our goodness, kindness, respect, come out…It can take work but it is the starting place to building peace. 

                                      It was a lovely gathering with a simple, pure message, (and bagels, clotted cream and strawberry jam) for sure. Certainly first-hand experiences like his, had great impact. We would all have loved to hear more from this learned man who carries wisdom regarding and has practiced, non-violence all his life and those of you watching saw all our hands go up and you too must have had questions.. It was a privilege to hear Dr Gandhi.

See the recording here:

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