Humility – The Gandhian Way

gandhi king

Gone are the days of Gandhian simplicity and unpretentiousness. The rush for materialism and economic progress has robbed Indians of their humility. Arrogance and egoism has taken centre stage.

Now, household help count is a status symbol while Gandhi preached self-service. He weaved the clothes he wore, and currently wearing high-end fashion brands is a social necessity. Whether in personal life, interviews, or jobs, we present a flawless image as drilled by the personal branding consultants. Admitting to weaknesses is a no-no. Our leaders are picture perfect till their names become media headlines for some scandal. Where are we heading with this behavior?

Mahatama Gandhi’s two autobiographies “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” and “Satyagraha in South Africa” reveal the humility of the great man.

1.  Humility in Personal Life

“The Story of My Experiments with Truth” sounds more of a confession of wrong doings and mistakes from childhood to adult life. Gandhi ji admitted to smoking cigarettes, eating meat, acting like a sex-starved teenager with his wife and visiting brothels a couple of times. He basically did what all youngsters do in the name of adventure, rebellion and growing up. However, very few leaders take the trouble of writing them down to share it with their followers,  to enable the followers to learn from the leaders mistakes.

Nowadays, doing so at the peak of the political career is considered suicidal. Our society needs a reality check. It needs to accept that failures are a part of life, no one is perfect, not even our greatest leader. Alas, others look akin to a clown, a circus joker, a pathetic beggar, a disreputable character, a corrupt greedy man, a ruthless psychopath, a loose woman, a calculating witch, but prey why do we miss seeing all these in self.

2.  Obsession With Titles

A title is the ultimate hallmark of supremacy, be it Lord, King, CEO, President. If you have an exalted designation on your visiting card, all character flaws, deficiencies and short comings are wiped clean. People must bow down in front of you and you get the right to treat them inhumanely with disrespect. Contrast this with Gandhi ji’s attitude towards the title of Mahatma bestowed on him. He mocked and ridiculed it. In the introduction of the book  “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” he wrote –

“My experiments in the political field are now known, not only in India, but to a certain extent to the ‘civilized’ world. For me, they have not much value; and the title of Mahatma that they have won for me has, therefore, even less. Often the title has deeply pained me; and there is not a moment I can recall when it may be said to have tickled me.”

About his second visit to Kashi Vishanath Temple he indulged in some good-natured self-depreciating humor –

“Since then I have twice been to Kashi Vishvanath, but that has been after I had already been afflicted with the title of Mahatma, and experiences such as I have detailed above had become impossible. People eager to have my darshan would not permit me to have a darshan of the temple. The woes of Mahatmas are known to Mahatmas alone. Otherwise the dirt and the noise were the same as before.”

Ask the question “Who am I?” If the response is a designation or a degree, then there is confusion in identity.

3.  Grandiosity of Leaders

Everyone desires to be a leader as it makes them look grand in eyes of others. Aspiring leaders avoid contemplating whether they actually inspire their followers, work on improving the world and add value to the society. The aim is to get the perks and privileges of leaders without the responsibilities. Even the spiritual leaders, swamis and yogis, the embodiment of austerity and simple living, are sitting on golden thrones. During investigations or after death, shocked followers see the display of hoarded cash and jewellery.

The servant-leadership followed by Gandhi ji showed his true leadership mettle. In the book – Satyagraha in South Africa – he described himself as servant of the public. He wrote –

“A public meeting of the Indians was called in Durban. Some friends had warned me beforehand that I would be attacked at this meeting and that I should therefore not attend it at all or at least take steps for defending myself. But neither of the two courses was open to me. If a servant when called by his master fails to respond through fear, he forfeits his title to the name of servant. Nor does he deserve the name if he is afraid of the master’s punishment. Service of the public for service’s sake is like walking on the sword’s edge. If a servant is ready enough for praise he may not flee in the face of blame. I therefore presented myself at the meeting at the appointed time.”

Further on, he expounded servant leadership in the following words –

It has been my constant experience that much can be done if the servant actually serves and does not dictate to the people. If the servant puts in body-labour himself, others will follow in his wake. And such was my experience on the present occasion. My co-workers and I never hesitated to do sweeping, scavenging and similar work, with the result that others also took it up enthusiastically. In the absence of such sensible procedure it is no good issuing orders to others. All would assume leadership and dictate to others and there would be nothing done in the end. But where the leader himself becomes a servant, there are no rival claimants for leadership.”

These are fabulous examples of role,  accountability, and responsibility of leaders. Just a handful of leaders can be so humble and fill these shoes. Autobiographies of great leaders show that leadership is a long hazardous journey requiring great deal of personal sacrifice, hard work, and vision. It is incorrect to assume business titles automatically bestow leadership traits. Queen Marie Antoinette’s immature and inconsiderate statement – “If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake” – didn’t get her dedicated followers, it is Napoleon who is respected for leadership qualities. . Earn the honor of being a leader. Ask yourself – Why should others follow you?

Closing thoughts

Wishing all my readers, a very Happy Gandhi Jayanti.  As it is a holiday in India, let me end this on a humorous note.

A donkey twisted his leg, so the owner put him in a red Ferrari to take him to the vet. On the way, the owner stopped at a car wash. The car cleaners said – “Wow, what a body, such a dazzling color.” The donkey joyously brayed. The cleaners remarked – “Sounds fabulous”. After returning to the  farm, while walking on the mud path, the donkey was extremely disappointed and thought – “Why is no one appreciating me, as the car cleaners did?”

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