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If there is one thing that stands out with respect to Gandhiji, it was his willingness to live by his principles – irrespective of the consequences to himself. He was a classic example of what today we call, ‘Walk the talk’ and that was the secret of his enormous credibility. I recall a story that someone told me in Durban from Gandhiji’s South Africa days. He said that Gandhiji’s son narrated as follows:
‘I used to drop my father to his workplace and pick him back after work as we lived in the Indian area (Apartheid segregation) which was more than twenty-five kilometers away. One day I decided to go to the movies – something that my father didn’t approve of – and as luck would have it, I got engrossed in the film and forgot all about the time. When the movie finished I realized that I was more than an hour late to pick up my father. It was even later when I finally drove up to his office. He was waiting for me and asked me why I was late. I told him that the car had broken down and it took time while I had it fixed. Unknown to me however a friend of my father’s had seen me in the cinema and took the trouble to telephone him and tell him about it. So my father asked me, ‘I understand that you went to the movies and that is why you were delayed. Is this true?’
I knew when the game was up and admitted that this was the reason why I was delayed. My father then said something that has remained with me all these years – he said, ‘I have always tried to teach you to speak the truth. But it appears that I have failed. So I will punish myself for my failure. You can go home. I shall walk back.’ Saying that he walked home, twenty-five kilometers on a dark road while I drove slowly behind him. He never mentioned this incident again. And I have never lied again.’
If one needs proof of the power of walking the talk, this is as good as it gets.
I always tell this story when I am speaking to teachers and parents on raising children and ask, ‘What do you think will be the result of our placing responsibility for learning where it belongs – on the teachers/parents?’
In my view my life can be as valuable as I want to make it. It is not how long I live, but how I live which is more important. It is not what I do but the intention behind that action which determines whether that action is worthy of appreciation and emulation or an illustration of something to avoid at all costs. A life that is lived creating value is a valuable life. One that is lived indulging oneself and one’s desires or worse, creating negative effects is a life wasted. After all animals also live and do whatever pleases them. But they leave no mark of their passing. They live, they reproduce, they die. Most humans do the same, with as much effect on their environment, society and time such that when it is mentioned that they once lived, one is tempted to ask, “So what?”
We only live once. During the course of that life, a large part of it is spent in growing up and growing old. Between the two is a brief period where a window opens. A window of opportunity where we have the chance to make a difference. Whether we are able to take advantage of this window depends on whether we anticipated it and prepared for it. Every one of us has this window in our lives. But some of us, when opportunity knocks, we complain about the noise.
“In the final analysis:
It all matters…
Everything that you do or choose not to do,
Communicate brand value and character.”
In my view there is one thing that takes precedence over all else when we look at the things that add value to human life. That is the establishment of justice. And that begins with speaking and living by the truth. This is what Gandhiji exemplified all through his life.
At all places and in all times, it is the establishment of justice that is the most critical underpinning to all other activity. A mother who brings up her children with a focus on establishing justice creates harmony in the home and brings up good citizens. A teacher who focuses on the establishment of justice in his or her teaching creates a society that is free from discrimination and which encourages merit. A manager who focuses on the establishment of justice creates a work atmosphere that rewards genuine effort and enables employees to find fulfillment in their work. A government that focuses on the establishment of justice ensures that the talents of all citizens are allowed to flower for the benefit of the nation and that strong groups support the weak instead of oppressing them. So the establishment of justice is the single most valuable goal that anyone can work for.
However as I mentioned, establishing justice is not easy. It never was:
“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one
must take a position that is neither safe,
nor politic, nor popular;
But one must take it because it is right.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And that is the key; one must do what is right, no matter what the cost. But then who said it was easy? I only said that it was the most valuable thing to do. Not the easiest.
(Credit for sketch belongs to the artist and NOT to me.)