But did he really say that? And what does it mean? Is it the reason he managed to lead his country to overthrow the British Empire?
It is certainly true that Mahatma Gandhi almost singlehandedly transformed India. In my previous post (Nelson Mandela as a Remarkable Innovator), I suggested we could look at Nelson Mandela as an innovator, and, by doing so, draw powerful lessons. We can do the same thing by looking at the life, thinking and character of Mahatma Gandhi in a similar way. Here are three traits that made Gandhi a man who changed the world.
1. A Singularity of Purpose, a Dominant Core Value
As mentioned in the post on Mandela, people who change the world or innovate are usually driven by an intense singularity of purpose, often by one core value in particular. Mandela’s was a life-long dedication to equality.
Gandhi too had a singularity of purpose that was driven by a near-obsession with one core value.
What comes as a surprise to many people, especially in these days of skepticism and cynicism, is that the singular core value Gandhi pursued was truth.
If you read Gandhi’s autobiographry, the first thing you might be struck by is its subtitle, ‘My Experiments with Truth.’ The entire book describes how he linked everything he did with his personal reflections on truth. The pursuit of truth even guided his thinking on policy. His conclusion that India should not be ruled by Britain was in fact based on his pursuit of truth: he simply saw no basis in truth to suggest that the Indian people were in any way lesser than the British. It followed – logically – that India should be free and rule itself.
2. Diverse Knowledge
Once again, modern research shows that the most creative minds have not just deep knowledge in a particular field, but also diverse knowledge and understanding of a variety of subjects. Creative people and innovators are curious: they ask questions and pursue answers, wherever those answers might take them.
The evidence of Gandhi’s remarkably curious mind is found in the vast legacy of articles and books he wrote. Gandhi was unbelievably prolific, writing some one hundred books and articles, on topics that ranged from politics to policy to non-violence to history to philosophy. This was in addition to his formal training and early profession in the law.
The lesson we can draw is that while we certainly need to teach people to specialize in the field of their choice, we must equally encourage people to balance specialized knowledge with a continued pursuit of knowledge in areas they are curious or passionate about.
3. Emotional Wisdom
Everyone faces challenges in life, and perhaps the biggest one we all face today is to fend off negatives and set backs in order to stay focused on our positive goals.
Like Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi developed the skill of what we can call emotional wisdom. It is more than just emotional intelligence. It is the ability and skill to take life’s negatives and setbacks and actually transform them back into positive ends.
Here’s how Gandhi once put it, and consider if this skill alone may have made been the key reason Gandhi was able to achieve what he did: “I had learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.”
Gandhi also inspired others to do exactly the same. Gandhi’s fifth grandson, Arun Gandhi, was fourteen when his grandfather was assassinated in 1948. When it happened he was so filled with anger that he wanted revenge against the assassin. But then he recalled what his grandfather had taught him: “Gandhi taught me at age twelve that anger is as useful and powerful as electricity … but only if we use it intelligently. We must learn to respect anger as we do electricity.” Today, at 79, Arun Gandhi is a renouned advocate and public speaker who campaigns for non-violence and the peaceful resolution of conflict.
My kids and their classmates would be proud of him.