Five qualities from Gandhiji’s life which I wish to inculcate in my life

A black and white photograph of Mahatma Gandhi
Image courtesy: India Today

Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood Albert Einstein on Mahatma Gandhi

Today is Friday, October 2nd. It’s a national holiday in India. The occasion is the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi — a pivotal figure in India’s freedom struggle.

I have been fortunate to be exposed to Gandhiji’s life and principles at various stages of my life.

In school, I read briefly about him in our history text book. In college, I took a course in literature. Gandhiji’s autobiography (My Experiments with Truth) was one of the prescribed texts.

During my civil services preparation, I got a chance to read in detail about Gandhiji’s role in the freedom struggle and his principles of peace & non-violence. The Gandhian way of struggle had Satyagraha at its core. It meant using the force of truth to fight the aggressor. It was based on the pillars of truth and ahimsa (non-violence).

Having political science as my optional subject helped me get a deeper understanding on many aspects of Gandhiji’s political and economic thought. The concept of Swaraj stands out here in particular. It denotes self-rule, self-reliance and self-restraint. It implies independence across all fronts — politically, economically and spiritually.

Seventy three years have passed since India became independent and yet these ideas remain as relevant today as they were back then.

Following are the five qualities from Gandhiji’s life which resonate deeply with me. I wish to make these an inalienable part of my life in order to become a better version of myself.

1. Spirit of Service

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others — Gandhi

Gandhiji spent his life working towards uplifting of the downtrodden and empowering the weaker sections. On multiple occasions, he took up the fight for justice on behalf of people — struggle against racial discrimination of Indians in South Africa, Champaran Satyagraha (1917), Kheda Movement (1918), formation of Harijan Sevak Sangh (1932) to eradicate untouchability. These were in addition to the mass movements he led as part of the freedom struggle — Non Cooperation Movement (1920–22), Civil Disobedience Movement (1930–32) and the Quit India Movement (1942). His social work left as much impact as his political leadership.

Application in personal life — Selflessness is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. Most professional and personal relationships today are transactional. Everyone is primarily worried about their narrow self-interests.

As opposed to this is the ‘spirit of service’ — where we seek to help others without expecting favors in return.

Though simple actions in our everyday life, we can develop the mindset of ‘sprit of service’. Some of these actions include:

  1. Going out of our way to help friends and colleagues.
  2. Responding to people who might reach out to us for help (on social media or in-person).
  3. Supporting good causes with our time and/or money.
  4. Helping the people who work for us —the maid, the milkman, the carwash guy whenever they seek our help.

If each one helps people in their circle of influence, imagine the compounding effect this would have.

2. Seek the truth

There is no God higher than truth — Gandhi

Gandhiji equated truth with God. His technique of Satyagraha, was based on the force of truth. It led to the attainment of true knowledge and fulfillment. According to him, “in the march towards Truth, “anger, selfishness, hatred, etc., naturally give way, for otherwise Truth would be impossible to attain.

There should be truth in thought, truth in speech, and truth in action.

Application in personal life — In my view, being truthful implies the following:

  1. Doing the right thing even if nobody is watching.
  2. An attitude of questioning everything about ourselves and our society without blindly accepting anything. This helps develop critical thinking.
  3. Consistently examining our behaviour and actions. We should not shy away from admitting our mistakes. This helps accelerate our self-development.
  4. NOT being quick to judge the intentions and motives of others. We should be willing to give others the benefit of doubt.

3. Lead by Example

You must be the change you wish to see in this world — Gandhiji

Gandhiji was one of those leaders who practiced what he preached.

  • To drive home the message of Swadeshi, he dressed in a simple cotton dhoti.
  • To drive home the importance of dignity of labour, he cleaned the toilets, took to the Charkha to spin his own clothes and did all his personal works on his own.
  • To connect better with the masses he was leading, he resorted to a simple and no frills lifestyle.

Application in personal life — In today’s world of cut-throat competition, everyone wants to be a leader and climb up the corporate ladder. In the process we set sky-high expectations from others around us.

The kind of qualities that we expect from our colleagues and juniors — sincerity, punctuality, devotion to duty, attention to detail etc should first be cultivated within ourselves.

We need to set standards for ourselves before setting them for others.

4. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Simplicity is the essence of universality — Gandhiji

Gandhi embodied simplicity in so many ways: his clothes, his adherence to principles of truth and non-violence, his spartan lifestyle etc. This helped him remain focused on his life’s mission and also endeared him to his masses.

Application to personal life: Modern life is so complicated. We have appearances to keep up, a ‘network’ to expand and riches to accumulate. People have become the means to an end while things have become an end in themselves.

I believe that a single minded pursuit of the material acts as a breeding ground for negative emotions — greed, anger, jealousy. It may also lead to us becoming dishonest and manipulative.

In my view, simplicity means:

  1. Focusing on the big things (goals) rather than the shallow things (what do others think about me, how do I impress person X, how did he reach such a high position etc).
  2. Developing a value system and sticking to it. It makes it easier to take decisions. An added benefit is that it helps earn people’s respect.
  3. Finding happiness and joy in smaller things rather than extravagance.

The maxim of ‘Simple Living, High Thinking’ frees up our energy to do things that matter the most.

5. Have Faith in Yourself

First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win. — Gandhiji

You can’t take on a mighty colonial empire unless you have an indomitable will. Imagine the kind of challenges Gandhiji would have had to contend with: 1) Violence unleashed by the police/administration to break the spirit of the people 2) People deviating from the principles on which the struggle was based 3) Internal strife within the party due to divergence of thought 4) Personal issues.

Yet, all these challenges were embraced with determination and courage.

Application to personal life: Life is hard. There are so many roadblocks towards achieving our dreams and aspirations. We have to win over our inner demons, we need to have the support of close ones, we need to be in the right place at the right time, we need to navigate the politics and treachery that is unexpectedly thrown at us.

In my view, having faith in yourself means:

  1. Not giving up after failure. Reflect on why you failed rather than wallow in self-pity.
  2. Learning how to control our emotions in stressful situations. If we have our emotions under control, we can bring any situation under control.
  3. Change in attitude while dealing with adversity. Rather than wondering why it happened to me, focus on how can I get out of this.

The lives of all great men teach us that beyond the banality of our existence, lies an extraordinary purpose waiting for us. Gandhiji’s life is a shining example of this.

We must strive to become better versions of ourselves every day. And who knows, in the process, we might just end up leaving our footprints on the sands of time.

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Vikram Goyal

Currently PM@Airmeet — building a kick-ass product for conducting remote events and conferences.