So, I think he did amazing stuff and it’s right to admire his accomplishments and borrow what will work for our future.
“Those considering the future of the Occupy movement should look for inspiration to Gandhi” is the subheading from this Guardian op-ed, and I am really uncomfortable with that broad statement.
Gandhi was a product of his time; he was also really hard on himself. Takes one to know one, you might say, and I feel nothing but compassion for that hardness. But. He was very comfortable telling others what they might or might not do, and I am much less comfortable with that.
A close relative was ill, and he refused to let her have an egg because it would be at the expense of another life. While I have a sense of vague respect for all life, I don’t see why a chicken is more valuable than rice or sweet potatoes. And if it is, then I think it’s not unreasonable to say that a human’s life is more valuable than a chicken’s. Now, I’m not Gandhi. But, I’m not comfortable with OWS as a movement making life and death decisions about what participants can and can’t eat.
(That story only ends happily because a young (male) doctor was able to convince Gandhi that an unfertilized egg didn’t kill anything, and so the female relative lived. Yea!)
More troubling to me, however, is a more complicated story from his later years. It helps if you have some background in Hinduism, and my understanding isn’t perfect, but here’s what I remember… Ascetics and yogis and holy men and women will take on difficult physical tasks to increase their spiritual power and inner strength and fortitude.
Gandhi (and I don’t know if there was further context around this episode. I admit I haven’t made a study of his life) chose an exercise in chastity: he slept in public, his raised bed and mosquito netting set up in the middle of his headquarters. This, while quirky, didn’t and doesn’t concern me. But. He did not sleep alone—he slept with a young, female, beautiful relative.
I have a kneejerk reaction to anything that even rhymes with incest, so on the face of it, that episode might not bother others and I’m mostly ok with that.
But . He used her for his own perceived gain. He had no trouble using a young female relative to strengthen/prove his personal purity.
History does not record how she felt about being his sexual-spiritual barbells, nor how she felt being paraded in front of his followers as someone that Gandhi might feel attraction for and therefore sleeping while not touching her was a big ascetic whoop de doo sacrifice. If it was hard for Gandhi, how much harder must it be for anyone else…
How would you feel if an elderly relative whom the world admired made a pass at you? Who would Jesus flirt with?
When OWS writes its history (because I don’t trust anyone outside to get it right ;) ), I hope that we have specifically NOT exploited the young and the vulnerable and the less-powerful. I hope the only sacrifices we make are our own.
(Also, I hope we don’t end up assassinated.)
But that’s just me.