The assassin maneuvered his way to the front, hand in his pocket, gripping the pistol. The crowd had been waiting for a while. The person whom they were waiting for was late. Eventually they saw him come up the pathway, draped in the shadows of the warm evening, accompanied by two members of his “family.” The assassin stood calm, resolute.
When his target was just a few yards from the wooden platform, Nathuram Godse, stepped forward and blocked the path. He bowed in respect and then fired. Three bullets from the .38 Beretta semi-automatic pistol slammed into the body of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who murmured the words, “Oh, God,” and fell to the ground where he died within moments.
January 30, 1948. Sixty-three years ago. Louis Fischer, a well-known journalist at the time, later wrote of Gandhi: “His legacy is courage, his lesson truth, his weapon love. His life is his monument. He now belongs to mankind.”
In the wake of the Tucson tragedy, there has been much talk about how we as a free society should talk. The dust has not settled and exactly what direction this dialogue about the words we use in public discourse will take is yet unknown, but one encouraging sign is that there has been little, if any, of the kind of the revenge talk that followed the Oklahoma City bombing. Revenge, not justice allowed Timothy McVeigh to get the easy way out with a death sentence, which, by the way, was exactly what he wanted.
While all sides have some responsibility to take for the sorry state of our national discourse, I firmly believe that the lion’s share belongs to the right wing/conservative element. It began in the 1990’s when Newt Gingrich told Republicans that they should target liberals and Democrats by calling into question their patriotism, their faith, and their morality. Gingrich’s “Contract with America” in reality was little more than a contract on political opponents. The mean-spirited, exaggerated political rhetoric shot off by angry, gun-metal mouths has continued unabated, but had someone been able to pull the plug on this license to lie and smear back then when it started, or had we not listened, then we might not find ourselves in the situation we are in today.
As the leader of India’s hard-won struggle for independence, Mohandas K. Gandhi became the international symbol of a free India. He lived a spiritual and ascetic life of prayer, fasting, and meditation. He was so admired by his countrymen that he was called Mahatma, meaning ‘Great Soul,’ a title reserved for the greatest sages.
The extraordinary life and teachings of this man still inspires and remains a brilliant example today, and especially in these days, there is we have much we can learn from his legacy. These thoughts of Gandhi’s, from his autobiography, seem apropos to the present moment, words that all of us could benefit by reflecting on:
I must say that, beyond occasionally exposing me to laughter, my constitutional shyness has been no disadvantage whatever. In fact I can see that, on the contrary, it has been all to my advantage. My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writing. I have thus been spared many a mishap and waste of time. Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word. We find so many people impatient to talk. There is no chairman of a meeting who is not pestered with notes for permission to speak. And whenever the permission is given the speaker generally exceeds the time-limit, asks for more time, and keeps on talking without permission. All this talking can hardly be said to be of my benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.