Mahatma Gandhi is one of my favorite world leaders who influenced so many with ideas about social change. He has always been most evident in the pacifist sector of the U.S. peace movement.
Prior to World War II his appeal was in the world of ideas. He was a symbol of dedicated action, of a possible alternative to violent means of political and social change — a pacifist indeed. Gandhi is regarded as one of the most influential leaders of his time.
If you wish to show someone (co-workers, employees, children) about leadership in action, then look no further than Gandhi’s life on the Indian community — called the ashram (a village, community, or religious retreat) — where people of all faiths work and worship together for the betterment of each other.
In the movie “Gandhi”, we see Gandhi as he meets Charlie Andrews, the English clergyman, and they attempt to walk downtown together. Minister Andrews inquiries about Gandhi’s judgment when they are about to meet up with some aggressive white South Africans who are shouting obscenities and racial slurs.
The clergyman encourages Gandhi to cross over to the other side of the street.
Gandhi smiles and quotes from the Bible – referencing the turn-your-check passage — “I thought you were a man of God?”Gandhi asks his clergy friend.
The relieved clergyman responds, “I am a man of God, but not so egotistical to think he plans his day around my dilemmas…” A poignant scene for sure and one we can all learn from. Gandhi’s message to the thugs is, “You will find there is room for us all here”, a lesson that could serve us all in current times of great strife and division.
He confronts hate and bigotry with patience and understanding — truly remarkable then and now.
Further on in the movie classic, we see Gandhi taking a New York Times reporter (Martin Sheen) on a tour of his ashram, explaining as they walk that each person on the ashram is expected to take their turn with different chores. It truly makes no difference if your job is that of prime leader, you also must be responsible to rake and cover the latrines — cleaning of the toilets.
Gandhi reminds the reporter that, yes, while you are cleaning the toilets, that is the most important job at that moment; you must do it with joy, or not at all.
So, I ask each of us: Do you have that attitude about sharing responsibility? Do we appreciate the custodian, the fast-food worker, the ditch digger … those who seem to, because of social norms, have menial positions?
Or do we only get enamored by those with fame, money and status?
Gandhi teaches us that every person’s job is as important as another’s; another great principle to live by. Great leaders are not afraid to do the menial tasks as well; a roll-your-sleeves-up mentality for sure.
Since moving back, I have witnessed some marvelous community service activities, people helping others all over the place, as it should be. One of Gandhi’s many famous quotes is, “The best way to find yourself, is to bury yourself in service to others.”
So as you go about your way in your professional and personal walk this week, please make a point of stopping to thank someone for the role that they play.
It takes all of us working together. What particular talent might you have that could be helpful to a particular cause?
Servant leadership is what the world is craving. We all have that responsibility:
What a man thinketh in his heart, he feels
What he feels, he says,
What he says, he does.
This truly is walking the talk!
Greg Oliver served as teacher and administrator on the Laurel Oaks campus from 1973-1985, principal at East Clinton High School 1985-1989, and still works in education as Specialist of Alliances and Partnerships with Pearson Education, with a remote office in Wilmington.