Just yesterday I told my daughter Erika that I loved history in high school, but that I also did terrible in it. I would memorize and remember the things that I thought were important, but anything I didn’t understand or relate to would slip out of my brain faster than air out of a New England football. (Holy mackerel! I’m so relevant I scare myself!) But one thing I will never forget: learning about the Hindu caste system in grade 9. The way it worked was that every person living in that country had a destined grouping assigned to them. If you were lucky you were born into one of the rich designations. People would be compelled to treat you like royalty, or even deity. There were many mid-way designations, and the bottom of the barrell were the Dalits or the “untouchables.” This was no Sean Connery movie, either. They were people that you not only wouldn’t touch, but would also pretend they didn’t even exist. They were the poorest of the poor and regarded as lower than vermin. Never forgot that class day.
Not long after I learned of Gandhi and he immediately became a hero of mine. He was raised in a merchant caste and was trained to be a lawyer as an adult. He was living in South Africa, a place where the Indian community were being overlooked, treated unfairly and oppressed. He fought hard for their civil rights, and when he eventually arrived back home in India, he took the fight with him. And get this. He fought for:
- easing poverty
- expanding women’s rights
- building religious and ethnic amity
- ending “untouchability”
That’s a pretty impressive list. Seems painfully ironic that these are still issues we struggle with as a society today. In our Western world, easing poverty is met with hurdles, apathy, or both. Equality of women? Victims of abuse and harassment are still mostly female, and many women in the workplace still get paid less than men for the same jobs (by and large). Maybe we don’t have “untouchability”, but there are plenty of people in our society that we would rather pretend don’t exist. (And don’t think for a moment that the high school culture is any easier on lower-end-of-the-totem-pole people than it was when you were young.) Religious and ethnic amity? Oh boy… wish I had Gandhi on line one here…
And perhaps what he is most known for is what inspired courageous men and women like my last Monday’s man of the hour, Martin Luther King Jr.: peaceful civil disobedience. And this wasn’t easy. Sitting in the wrong spot or refusing to participate in a certain activity could result in brutal violence. Sitting still while knowing what may come couldn’t have been a walk in the park, but they had a vision for a better future. With quietness and confidence these individuals changed the hearts of many. We may have a way to go, but we’ve come so far. Thank you Gandhi, MLK, Malala Yousafzai, William Wilberforce, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Susan B. Anthony, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and so many others for your sacrifices, hard work, and determination to make my life better.
Congratulations Gandhi. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. Memorable performance to say the least. And the real EB is in the movie playing a waitress who serves Julia-as-Erin.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. Greatest actor ever people! Loved the movie too.
Best Quote: “A compass, I learned when I was surveying, it’ll… it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… What’s the use of knowing True North?” — Lincoln
I must say I feel hypocritical writing this. But, looking on the bright side, maybe it’s just inspiration that just feels an awful lot like hypocrisy.