On inspiration, interconnectedness and India. Part 2 of our interview with Arun Gandhi.
You’re considered an inspiration to many but, besides your grandfather, who are your own personal inspirations? To whom do you credit some of the ideals and philosophies you cherish most?
Of course my main inspirations have always been my grandparents and parents but they also taught me to always keep an open mind so that I can absorb the nuggets of wisdom that come from the most unexpected sources. They also taught me that life is a learning experience and that learning does not stop when we leave school. If we wish to learn from life it is important to be awake, aware and accepting of lessons that come from all sources. I get inspiration from small children, from the homeless, from people in the streets, from trees, from places I simply can’t pinpoint. Learning in this life is somewhat like digging for diamonds. We must go on digging a lot of dirt and in the midst of that we sometimes find what we want. The more we dig the more we realize that what we want isn’t all there is and may not be what we need.
In regards to learning, what’s your take on the current model of education in the US and elsewhere?
We need a radical shift. We simply cannot continue down this path. When I first began making sense of my grandfather’s teachings, I realized that many scholars of his work focused entirely on his lessons of nonviolence or on using his ideas to improve conflict resolution programs. While this is fine, it seemed an overly narrow use. In many ways, I believe our education system is the same way. It is too-often narrowly viewed as this system whose entire purpose is to get a job. Education can spark personal transformations, can broaden people’s perspectives, can teach us to truly understand and therefore respect each others’ cultures. Tolerance of each other isn’t enough; my grandfather believed the same. I believe these aspects must be fostered more. What’s a job to someone in a world with tension, conflict, hate and the myriad forms of violence? Now what’s a job to someone in a world with understanding, respect, appreciation and love? Our education system is often based exclusively on a career and on sending our graduates into the marketplace to make money. Encouraging this with such fervor naturally leads to greed and the kind of human-exploitation-for-personal-gain mentality that continues to grow. While career-oriented initiatives have many positives and certainly shouldn’t be entirely discarded, I believe our emphasis on them has caused us to forget some of the things that truly matter. At its core, the education system should awaken the desire within our youth to feel their connectedness with everything and everybody else and the desire to know and understand more about such relationships.
All children are able to learn not only from what their parents and grandparents did, but what they didn’t do. You know the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi perhaps better than anyone. Is there anything he did that you disagree with or have worked throughout your life to do differently?
I cannot think of anything that my parents or grandparents did that I did not approve of. I think they led an ideal life and gave us children a wonderful foundation. Perhaps the only difference may be that my grandfather had later expanded his notion of family and so he enlarged the circle and incorporated all of humanity as his family. This is something I find difficult to do although I do have love and respect for all humans. I wonder if I had ever faced a situation where I would have to take sides between my own child and someone else’s child… would I be as fair and impartial as grandfather could be? There are some aspects of his philosophy that are difficult to practice, but this does not mean they are wrong or that I disagree with them.
Rape. Human trafficking. Poverty. Child labor. Such are the words and phrases people are increasingly coming to associate with India. What are your thoughts on this?
In many respects such labels are deserved. Half of India is in abject poverty. There are 100 million children in India and many of them fall into this category. From the age of 4 and 5 many begin working difficult and dangerous jobs. If they don’t they will die of starvation. It’s a sad commentary on human rights that in the 21st century we still have such deep problems, but it’s also sad that many believe superficial solutions can solve these problems. For example, there’s international pressure to pass laws in India that will make child labor illegal. For starters, we already have some laws regarding this. The problem is we have no way to enforce or effectively implement them. There are not systems of alternative programs for our kids to take up instead of work. So what happens when a law is passed? Nothing. And what happens even if such laws could be enforced? Poverty deepens. Whereas we once had kids working to feed themselves and their families, now we’ll have kids either starving or being penalized for working to combat their own starving. Taking a legal approach is not going to work. Not in India. Not right now. We need to look at this situation with compassion and true understanding, not through coldblooded bureaucratic eyes.
The Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute is working to address the roots of such poverty. We’re working with parents and grandparents, we’re offering vocational training and other education opportunities, we’re working to rescue children from gangs and horrible situations but we’re also working to build a framework of institutions so that once these children are rescued they actually have a chance to thrive. Again, one law or one idea isn’t enough. We’ve got models in place that have worked and continue to work, but, as with so many things, it comes down to funding. We accept donations through our site and encourage any and all to please help us help others.
Lastly, what do you see as the most pressing human rights issue of our time, and why?
There are many human rights issues to be concerned about and they all have their roots in the culture of violence that we have created. This culture of violence has taken over every aspect of human life – language, sports, entertainment, business, relationships, education, science, politics, etc. This culture of violence has also made us very selfish, thinking only of ourselves and our needs and not the ramifications of our pursuit of these. This is translated in our relations between nations. Each nation seeks to exploit the rest of the world for their own good. Consequently, the foreign policy of every nation is based on what is good for their immediate future, not our collective futures or even their long-term future. The result is that no one and no nation cares about what happens to the world and its resources, despite the increasing amount of science and awareness that highlights everything’s interconnectedness with everything else. The most affluent advantaged nations can grab whatever resources they need for themselves while depriving the lesser nations who have to continue to live in poverty. The imbalance in the world has now led us to spend inordinately large amounts of money on weapons of mass destruction because we are always afraid someone is going to attack us. The poor are desperate enough to consider attacking because they have been marginalized. So the affluent nations live in the belief that they can protect themselves and their nations even if the rest of the world is going down the drain. The reality is that no nation, however powerful, can survive if the rest of the world sinks. We are going to sink with them. I hope someday people will realize that their security and stability is linked to the security and stability of the world.
Follow Arun Gandhi on Twitter: @ArunMGandhi