Comment on Great Soul – Lelyveld’s Biography of Mahatma Gandhi


This was a tough read for me.  Gandhi was always a distant proponent of non-violence and the father of a country I have never visited or truly understood independent of its colonial history.  Someone I admired without a focused reason.

The biggest enlightenment for me from Great Soul was to remember Western ideas are not the world’s ideas.  They are important, but they are truly alien in the East and elsewhere.  Gandhi’s focus was not against the West.  It was for India and Indians.

He embraced a diet and dress of simplicity as solidarity with the poor, he used his personal suffering in barefoot marches or fasts as a mirror back upon India’s oppressors, his celibacy as an example of personal discipline, and his clearing of other’s feces as a direct assault on untouchability and the caste system.  Hard to see a Democrat or a Republican, a Tory or a Labourite (but maybe a Liberal Democrat) using these political weapons.  But in the context of India, he and his tactics changed everything.  He more than anyone created the world’s largest democracy.

As we think about Iran, North Korea, and others we need to remember that the world is a wide place of different and ancient ideas.  We need to understand the cultures before we can change behavior.  And once we do understand those cultures we may need to leave the testosterone behind.  Testosterone that led the Colonel in Full Metal Jacket to say “because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out.”.  Because the truth is Gandhi was as far from an American or a Brit as is possible.


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