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Be the change you want to see in the world

We live in an age of constant conflict and political uncertainty. It can be easy to throw up your hands and say that you’re just one person and one person can’t make a difference, but the inspiring life of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) is proof that this simply isn’t true.  The living embodiment of karma, Gandhi stands as a reminder to push ourselves to do good and to never stop trying to improve the world around us.

The father of india

As the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Mahatma Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing India’s extreme poverty, expanding women’s rights, building peace among hostile religious and ethnic groups, and achieving the freedom of self-rule for the Indian people. But perhaps his greatest legacy is the way he used non-violence to overcome oppression – a belief that guides the thousands of people who take part in peaceful resistance across the globe today.

Indians often describe Gandhi as the father of their nation. One of the things that made him a great leader was the way he built bridges between communities – between upper- and lower-caste Hindus and among Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Gandhi saw the good in everyone, regardless of their religion, gender or social position. For him, pure faith was above all religion. In his search for knowledge and fight for peace, he turned to the teachings of both Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed.

Power of peacful resistance

Always an optimist, Gandhi believed in the ability of human nature to evolve to a higher moral plane. He demonstrated this himself, well into old age, turning each crisis and conflict into an opportunity for spiritual growth. ‘I have never lost my optimism,’ he said. ‘In seemingly darkest hours hope has burned bright within me.’

Gandhi was all for religious harmony. He strived for equal rights for Muslims in India, and when violence erupted among Muslims and Hindus, he fasted, often threatening suicide. He firmly believed in actions over words, and his personal suffering was an invitation for people to lay down their arms. It was because of this moral philosophy that Gandhi’s public and private lives became one. ‘Only by service could one understand truth and embrace one’s deepest self,’ he said.

He clearly demonstrated the power of peacefully opposing oppression, injustice and brutality. But non-violence doesn’t mean doing nothing. It took great courage for Gandhi to face those who used violence to enforce their beliefs.

‘I object to violence,’ he once said, ‘because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.’

Ironically and tragically, Gandhi’s life ended in violence when he was assassinated by the Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse on the 30th of January in 1948. Almost 70 years after his death, his spiritual legacy lives on and serves as an inspiration for us all. In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared Gandhi’s birthday—the 2nd of October—the International Day of Non-violence.

Moral leadership by example

Gandhi’s life has served as a shining example to other political leaders to rise up and fight for social change, among them such historical figures as Martin Luther King Jr., Václav Havel, and Nelson Mandela. Their powerful message to each of us was to respect human dignity and reject intolerance.

This is something we should all think about, particularly given today’s political climate, when many countries seem so divided in their thinking that it’s almost as though two nations exist where one should be. While it is tempting to read the news and conclude that there is nothing you can do about this sad state of affairs, one need only remember Mahatma Gandhi and how he truly became the change he wished to see in the world. One person can make a difference, and the best hope for our future is to look to the people and movements that positively changed the past.