Gandhi’s Words: Be the Change

If you read the words of Mahatma Gandhi you are, if you allow yourself to hear and digest them, moved by their spiritual accuracy and, if you listen deeper still, struck by the enormous strength it takes to live them.

When I am filled with anger at an individual, group, policy, etc., I often turn to the words of people I admire and look up to. People like Gandhi, King, Mandela, Malcolm, and others like Brother Gregory Myles or Father Mychal Judge.  And so it was that this evening I found myself reading some of  Gandhi’s words. For example,“Hate the sin, not the sinner.” Not easy, and at times it feels damn near impossible. Sometimes I am able to live that distinction straight away, other times it takes me time. While I will always work to hate the sin and not the sinner, sometimes I am successful, sometimes I am not.

This evening I ran across another thing Gandhi said that was so remarkable it sent me into a gentle place of quiet stillness. He said, “You must be the change you want in the world.” I read this several times and then the tears came because his words are as true as life itself. And, if I am to be the change I would like in the world, then I must hate the sin and not the sinner, and also forgive the sinner, and that includes those who have wounded me.

Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  And, when you forgive and believe you are weak because you forgive, I say, If it is an act of weakness to forgive, then why is it so hard to do?

Remember what he said, “You must be the change you want in the world.”

I think that about covers it for now.


Seems I’ve stirred the pot a bit (Peter stirring the pot? Who would have thought?) with the last blog entry, “THE COST OF ADVOCACY.”

While some agreed with my friend’s genuine concern that I learn to pull back at times in my advocacy rather than, say, lose a job, most supported my view (a view shared by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elie Wiesel, Mahatma Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and others) that if you are going to be a human rights advocate, you can’t be one only when it doesn’t call on you to sacrifice or take a hit in some way.

I will not identify anyone who has responded to the last missive because those that have are people I like very much, even though, in some cases, I unflinchingly disagree with them.

One of the several who agreed with my friend’s caution said when I lose a job or take a major hit because of my unwillingness to restrain my advocacy, I “force everyone else to pay for (my) advocacy when instead of keeping quiet, getting another job, pulling back or whatever, you end up having to ask countless people including strangers to help you out because of it. Sorry, but I think your friend is right, a calm life slicing cold cuts at the deli is a perfectly acceptable way to live and also contributes to the world.”

There is no doubt working at a deli contributes to the world in a very real way. However, I would take issue with some of this person’s assertions. I don’t force anyone to do anything. Anyone who has recently helped me has done so because they care and, in most instances, are my friends. This is what friends do, it seems to me. They help each other through hard times and they don’t resent it. Not too long ago someone who is like family to me fell into hard times and I was able to send them a bit of money on a monthly basis for a little while and I felt both grate and grateful that I was able to help. So, no, I don’t force anyone to do anything.

However, this one respondent may or may not have company when it comes to the view that pulling back might be a wise thing from time to time. Yet, a closer examination of their reasoning could lead one to conclude that they are more concerned about my friends being inconvenienced than my welfare. People can share the same opinion for different reasons.

Here is what pulling back on my advocacy would mean to me (which does not mean this is what it means to others, those who agree or disagree with me). Pulling back to me means staying silent when others are being mistreated in order to keep my job, or my apartment, or home, or, for that matter, my life.

Case in point. Years ago, I moved into an attic apartment in Brooklyn after my first divorce. A close friend of mine was black. He came to see me one day. We had breakfast, talked, watched a movie, went for a walk, he went home. Moments after he left there was knock on my door. It was the landlord. They wanted to see me in their downstairs apartment. I went down to see them and they explained that while they had no problem with “his kind” visiting me, the neighbors did and so my friend could not come see me anymore.

I moved out. Was I wrong, should I have told my friend, sit tight, I’m only going to be here a year or so; you can’t come by to visit because you’re black?

A friend and I physically intervened once in a brutally violent situation on Court Street in Brooklyn when a young black man was being savagely beaten with boards and pipes because he had walked through a white neighborhood. My friend and I jumped in, shielded this bleeding battered man from a gang of more than 20 raging young whites, and, with the help of another man, kept him safe for a good 10 minutes before the police arrived.

Should we have stayed out of it so our lives would not be at risk, never mind that had we chosen to stay out of it, this young black man would almost certainly have been killed?

And what would people think the healthy choice would be were I, or they, working in a situation where blacks were called niggers or Latinos were called spics or gays were called fags or Jews were called kikes? Should silence rule so employment remains?

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when honing one’s form of advocacy is a wise choice No doubt, I could improve. We all could. But stay silent or pull back so I can keep a job or avoid inconveniencing friends? I don’t think so. Anyway, I don’t think anyone who is my friend feels inconvenienced, in large part because they know me well enough to know that if they fell on hard times, I’d help them, with joy and humility.

The best definition of humility I have ever heard was, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking less about yourself.”