So I’ve been watching the movie Gandhi with my World History students while teaching them about nonviolent resistance and the Indian independence movement. And, as I think we all know by now, I a) am easily influenced and b) suffer from delusions of grandeur.
As a result, I’ve been thinking about Gandhi and me.
Why is it people admire Gandhi so much? He wasn’t perfect by any means, but I think the reason he’s so idolized by so many is simply because he was a man, living in our complex modern world, who lived by his principles. He knew what he believed and he lived by it in such a simple and obvious way that others were drawn to him. And of course that makes me think, “I want to be that kind of person.” I don’t feel the need to fight for my country’s independence (AT LEAST NOT YET…) but I believe in peace, nonviolence, justice, all the things Gandhi believed in, and a bunch more besides. I believe in the message of Jesus and I want to live it out so everyone can see it in my life.
That got me started down other avenues of thought, like Jesus telling that rich young ruler to sell all he had and give to the poor, and Gandhi going around in just a loincloth so he could identify with the poorest of the poor, and me doing my pathetically small bit for charity and going on about my comfortable life. I started thinking, as I often do, about how I could live out my committments more radically, more sacrificially.
Then suddenly, I had one of these ideas so clear and beautiful it could possibly have come straight from heaven. I saw a way in which I could do something simple but big, that would make a clear, positive difference in my community. Something sacrificial, which would cause me to increase my dependence on God to supply all my needs, but also manageable, so that I might actually do it (as opposed to going around in a loincloth, which is not happening anytime soon — though I must say I’m rockin’ the Nehru jacket in the photo above, aren’t I?)
This idea unfolded in my mind, its beauty, its simplicity, its sheer do-ability … and I’m not going to tell you what it is, because as soon as I started thinking it through, it occurred to me: I could do this and not have to ever let anyone else (except my husband and one or two other people) know about it. And then I thought, actually, it would be much better, if I did this, not to tell anyone. And then I realized the only way I could ever do this would be if no-one but one or two absolutely essential people knew about it. And I thought of Jesus’ words about the right hand not knowing what the left hand doeth, and doing your alms in secret, and all that.
Here’s the thing I came to the internet to confess: you would not believe how much less attractive and interesting that idea for selfless service suddenly seemed, as soon as I realized no-one else would ever find out and I would get no credit for it. Which made me realize that for me, the appeal of being like Gandhi wasn’t really so much in the living out my principles or the selfless service to others, but maybe in the idea of everyone thinking how great I was, and coming from around the world to admire me and learn from me and sit at my feet.
I have a lot to learn about this humility business. And I’m sure Gandhi, not to mention Jesus, would have had something to say about that.