Few men have ever had as much of an effect on our world as Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), though he used the message of peace and love, rather than war and destruction. One time a prominent lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi gave up practicing law and returned to India in order to help ease the suffering of the repressed people of his homeland.
Gandhi’s love for people and his religious fervor made him a revolutionary in many of his ideas and actions. He desired to see India freed from British rule in a bloodless revolution, similar to the “Glorious Revolution” of Seventeenth Century England. Knowing that violence only begets violence, he began the practicing of passive resistance, or as he called it, “Satyagraha” which means “holding onto truth”. In his famous Salt March of 1930, Gandhi and thousands of others marched to a coast where salt lay on the beaches to protest the British Governments’ prohibition against the Indians making their own salt. Though many were beaten, arrested and killed, no one fought back. Over the course of his life he led three major crusades, rallied support for nonviolent strikes, urged Indians to boycott anything British, and championed women’s rights.
Gandhi exemplified many characteristics of a great leader. His love for the people of India was boundless; he wanted nothing more than to serve and help them. Always putting others above himself, he sought to make himself even lower than the lowest member of the Hindu caste system. He even humbled himself to the point of sweeping up excrement left behind by others, hoping to teach that disease was spread in filth. One of his most admirable qualities was that he led by example and never preached that which he was not willing to do himself. A common thread between Gandhi and many other great leaders was that no matter what he did, he did it to the best of his ability. He once said:
“No matter how insignificant the thing you have to do, do it as well as you can,
give it as much of your care and attention as you would give to the thing you
regard as most important. For it will be by those things that you shall be judged.”
He gave up his life and material possessions, fasted, toiled and suffered for his people and their cause. He showed that passiveness is not synonymous with weakness, and became a leader in the truest sense of the word.
Perhaps Gandhi’s greatest contribution to the world continued long after his assassination in 1948. Few realize that had it not been for his influence, we may have never witnessed in this country Martin Luther King Junior’s “I have a dream” speech, the lunch counter sit-ins, Rosa Parks, or Nelson Mandela’s struggle against antiapartheid oppression in South Africa. These people and many more who have followed in his footsteps bear witness to Gandhi’s leadership ability and his legacy that will continue for many centuries to come.