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June 24, 2012
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I really can’t, I’m no Mahatma Gandhi

by Tim Wolcott

Do you really know Gandhi or even Martin Luther King, Jr.?

You may think you do, but I believe that in some cases, we need to demystify our heroes so that we can more easily support their actions.

Recently was given a little book What Gandhi Says About Nonviolence, Resistance And Courage by Norman G. Finkelstein, to review. The book is quite readable as it “fleshes out” the self-contradictory nature of this Indian icon who nonviolently led his people to independence from imperial England. Subsequently, Gandhi’s actions served as a template for M.L.K., Jr.’s anti-segregation mission in southern America. Appropriately, both men are held in the highest esteem worldwide. I wonder if their mythic stories have inadvertently caused some of us to feel less able to emulate them.
According to Mr. Finkelstein, the Gandhi handed down to us is a sugar-coated version of the real man. Authentic Gandhi hated violence, but he hated cowardice more than violence. He believed that nonviolence inherently required more courage than violence. Sometimes he would use moral argument in the form of self-suffering fasts; sometimes he used coercive force (for example, calls to strike) to persuade malefactors into submission. Other times, taking the middle ground, civil disobedience, economic boycotts and picketing were employed. Mahatma Gandhi was an extremely gifted political strategist who adapted tactics to the situation at hand, but always stressed that even coercive non-cooperation “must have its roots in love”.
B.R. Nanda in his essay, "Gandhi And Nonviolence", quotes Gandhi - "It is my firm conviction that nothing enduring can be built upon violence.” However, world peace isn’t created merely with pious wishes and fine words. Mr. Nanda believes that Gandhi felt that it isn’t enough to blame the opponent or to lament one’s situation; the least a follower must do is to start reform by beginning with him or her self. First of all, we need to realize that our heroes (be they Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Jr., Thomas Jefferson or Mahatma Gandhi) were only flawed humans like ourselves, capable of greatness despite their moral weaknesses. They were people just like us. We can walk in their footsteps grateful that they are leading us on the right path despite our own weaknesses.

The point is to begin walking.
For more information on what you can do to emulate Mahatma Gandhi, the M .K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence located at the University at Rochester offers support for students and peacemakers in the following areas:
1. Nonviolence Education
2. Sustainability and Social Justice through Food
3. Social Justice and Nonviolence through Restorative Justice

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem.”  Mahatma Gandhi

Start walking today.

Teach Peace Now
Teach Peace Now
We offer books, activities, lesson plans, and ideas that teachers, parents, and students can use to promote values, attitudes and behaviors which encourage non-violent resolution of conflict, respect for human rights, democracy, intercultural understanding and tolerance.


  1. Mohandas Gandhi set an incredibly high bar for himself – more than he did for anyone else. For example, he would torture himself mentally for having lustful thoughts, and if I remember right from his autobiography, after one compulsive and ill-timed romantic encounter with his wife, he swore off sex for the rest of his life. (Wife didn’t have any choice in that matter!)

    He resented being called Mahatma and knew his own flaws.

    I think that one of his greatest teachings is about timing. When he was asked to help with the revolution, he sat in meditation for many days or even months before he knew the moment was right to begin his march.

    That’s my two-cent addition 🙂 Thanks for the conversation!

  2. I think this is a great post because not only does it remind me that each of us can make an impact, it also reminds me of how important it is to make sure we don’t remove the humanity of our heroes. They did what they could with what they had, and so can we.

    I’m also posting this to inform you that I nominated Teach Peace Now for the Beautiful Blogger Award because of your values in social justice. You can see the post here:

    • Sometimes the issues and problems we face in our society seem insurmountable and we look around for that heroic leader to lift us up. But heroes aren’t perfect. They are people who started walking before we did.

      Thank you for the beautiful blogger nomination.

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