WINNETKA – Anger is a powerful emotion that can be channeled into fuel for change, according to Dr. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of the legendary leader Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi.
“Anger is like electricity. It is just as useful and just as powerful, but only if we use it intelligently,” Dr. Gandhi told students at The Skokie School in Winnetka on November 13. That message was just one of many shared with students that Dr. Gandhi learned from his famous grandfather.
All of the students in Winnetka School District 36 had the opportunity to hear Dr. Gandhi’s ideas on peace and nonviolence at a series of sessions held on November 13 and 14.
A journalist for more than 30 years, Dr. Gandhi is also the author of several books, most recently The Gift of Anger, which was published in 2017. He is also the founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, and the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, located in Wacounda, Illinois.
Dr. Gandhi provided a short overview of his grandfather’s legacy, describing Mahatma Gandhi as an extremely shy child. After returning from England, where he studied law, he was even too shy to speak in court. “He really felt he would be no good at anything at all,” Dr. Gandhi said of his grandfather. But after moving to South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi’s worldview changed when he was refused a first class train ticket because of the color of his skin.
“When he suffered that humiliation it was a turning point in his life,” Dr. Gandhi said.
Mahatma Gandhi began fighting for equal rights, eventually developing a philosophy of nonviolence that changed the course of India, as well as influenced other human rights leaders around the world such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella. “He didn’t want to fight and seek revenge, but he wanted to find a more civilized way to resolve this issue,” Dr. Gandhi said.
For Dr. Gandhi, it was when he went to live his grandfather in India from age 12 to 14 that he internalized Mahatma Gandhi’s message of love and peace. Dr. Gandhi was born and raised in South Africa, but his parents decided he should spend time with his grandfather after he became very angry from his own personal experience with discrimination in South Africa. His grandfather taught Dr. Gandhi to channel his anger into positive action, instead of violence and aggression.
“Anger is a gift and it is not something we should be ashamed of,” Dr. Gandhi explained, comparing anger to the way gas keeps a car running. “We should be ashamed of the way we abuse this anger,” he noted.
But Dr. Gandhi also spoke about being the change you wish to see in the world, a major tenet of his grandfather’s philosophy. As a child, his grandfather directed him to draw a genealogy tree of violence, with one branch representing physical violence and the other passive violence. As days passed, he saw the passive violence branches continued to grow, since passive violence includes many everyday occurrences such as wasting food or resources, discrimination, or teasing others. When passive violence occurs each day, victims grow angry over time and turn to physical violence, Dr. Gandhi explained.
“If we want to put out the flame of physical violence, we have to shut off the gas,” Dr. Gandhi said.
So every morning, Dr. Gandhi tells himself that he will be a better person than he was the day before. He attempts to identify his own weaknesses and work on them to convert them into strengths. And urged the students to do the same.
“It is possible for each one of us to be a better person,” he told the students. He encouraged the students to find their own inner strength. “It is something that you yourself have to do yourself,” he said.
The event was organized by Joanna Amaral, a third grade teacher at Hubbard Woods Elementary School, and Barry Rodgers, director of innovation, teaching and learning for District 36. Amaral’s father, Hal Edwards, was involved with ecumenical ministry in Chicago and made a strong connection with Dr. Gandhi when they met in the early 1990s. Amaral and Edwards have both served on the board of the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute.
Rodgers welcomed Dr. Gandhi’s visit when Amaral mentioned the idea, since it was in line with the district’s mission to teach students to make a meaningful difference in the world.
“This was a fantastic opportunity for us and it is not something we see as a one-day event. It is part of the fabric of Winnetka,” Rodgers told DailyNorthShore.