About Enemies and Debates, Thoughts on Non-Violence from Dr. Arun Gandhi

Parliament of the World’s Religions Trustee Dr. Arun Gandhi shares this discussion starting-reflection on enemies and debates, especially in the interfaith context, in remembrance of the lessons in non-violence he learned from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. 

Lately there has been a lot of talk about “enemies” and how to deal with them. Inevitably, this leads to a heated “debate” and I find both these concepts repugnant since they form the foundation of what I call the Culture of Violence.

If there is anything I have learned from Gandhi’s writings and the lessons he taught me as a young boy entering his teens is that humankind is inexorably dominated by a Culture of Violence. Over generations the roots of this culture have run deep dominating every aspect of human life — from parenting at home to governing nations. The salvation, according to Gandhi, lies in each of us “becoming the change we wish to see in the world.”

During the struggle for India’s freedom from British Colonialism one rule that was observed strictly was never to dehumanize the British as “enemies”. Even when someone made a joke Grandfather would admonish the person and insist that we root out all words from our vocabulary that dehumanize people. Dehumanization is the first step in justifying violence and war. When we learn to respect everyone as human beings — even those with whom we may have differences of opinion — we will reduce violence.

Whenever possible Gandhi entered into a “discussion” with the British, never a “debate”. A discussion implies an openness to understand the other’s point of view and arrive at an amicable understanding whereas a debate implies there is only one Truth and the person with the gift of the gab can overwhelm the other.

A very potent example of this is religion. There are endless debates about which religion is the best and everyone claims they have the whole Truth. This attitude has led to wars, violence, massacres and genocides in the name of God. Yet, unfortunately, we are unwilling to accept that there are many aspects to one Truth. If we continue to debate this point we will never arrive at any understanding.

Religion, my Grandfather used to say, is the spiritual Mount Everest. All of us are trying to scale this peak and we choose different paths to get to the top. Since all the paths are equal why should it be a matter of contention which path one chooses to take? The important objective is for every individual to get to the top by making a sincere and committed effort. It needs no organization — just individual commitment and dedication.

Incidentally, I am offering these thoughts for a discussion, not a debate!

Featured image courtesy of Flickr – Medill DC


Dr. Arun Gandhi - Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife Sunanda he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world. They also began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987 Arun came to the United States and in 1991 he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2007, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York. In 2008 Arun resigned from the Institute to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will open shortly in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org). Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world. His publications include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.

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