When Words Hurt

When Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, was growing up in South Africa in the 1940’s, he experienced extreme racism and violence.  He was beaten up by white kids because he was black and by black kids because he was brown and closer to white than black.

Because of his own violent reaction to this treatment, his parents sent him to India at thirteen years of age to live with his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi.   He spent eighteen months in India and readily admits to being too immature to appreciate all that his grandfather had to offer. Yet, he has followed in his footsteps as the Founder and President of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence.

One of the main things he was taught during that period in India was that all of us need to recognize and then acknowledge the violence within ourselves. To assume that unless we are fighting, killing or participating in war, we are not violent individuals, is a mistake that prevents us from making necessary changes.

Mahatma Gandhi’s way of showing this to his grandson was by encouraging him to make a graph of sorts on the wall of his room.   They analyzed each day’s activities and made note of everything he experienced, read about, saw or did to others. These were then put under the headings of “physical” or “passive”.  The latter applied to hurts that were more emotional than physical, something Gandhi considered much more insidious than physical violence.  Passive violence almost always creates anger in the victim who ultimately responds violently.  Because of this, Gandhi voraciously stressed the need for non-violence in communications.

“Unless we become what we wish to see in the world, no change will ever take place,” Gandhi said, because “we are all, unfortunately, waiting for the other person to change first.”

In the forward of the book “Non-violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg, Arun Gandhi states, “Nonviolence means allowing the positive within you to emerge.  Be dominated by love, respect, understanding, appreciation, compassion and concern for others rather than the self-centered attitudes that dominate our thinking”… “If we change ourselves we can change the world, and changing ourselves begins with changing our language and methods of communication.”

Having heard of another young person committing suicide recently, due to the cruel words of others, my heart aches, and I am reminded of these teachings by such wise men.

Yes, children are egocentric and say terrible things, but as the adults in their lives, we need to lead by example and take Gandhi’s words to heart and change ourselves so that we might see change in others.

Try by simply noticing each time you say or think something hurtful toward someone else or yourself, and without judgment, release that thought and reach for a more positive one.   The more we do this, the less we’ll need to, and the better example we’ll set for those who are watching us when we’re not even aware.

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