November 6, 2011

Book Review: Gandhi: A Very Short Introduction

     So I've been slacking a bit on the book reviews, (see my last one on money & its government allotment here) but I recently picked this book up and couldn't help but get back in the groove, so to speak. This book is very small and convenient, a short read. This is the first I have read about Gandhi and I found it to be very interesting. The book covers his personal life, beliefs, and actions all in 152 small pages. I rarely read a book twice but this is one I will read again, no doubt. I closed this book with a mind open to new ideas, for example:
  • Gandhi's take on debates/discussions, 
  • His view that all people are good in one way or another and therefore salvageable
  • And the idea that one cannot hurt another without hurting himself. 

    Now, if you have not heard of or read about Gandhi and would rather read it in the book than on my blog, you might want to stop reading now! I picked the three previous examples because they meant the most to me in terms of creating new ideas in my head. The first example was his view of debates/discussions.

(An excerpt from the book) Chapter 4, Satyāgraha - The Limits of Rationality & Violence
"For Gandhi, rational discussion or persuasion was the best way to resolve conflict. In his view rational discussion worked under two conditions. First, since human beings are fallible and partial, each should make a sincere effort to look at the disputed subject from the other's point of view. If either party were to be dogmatic, self righteous, or obstinate, it would not be willing to question its view of the matter in dispute, put itself into the shoes of the other, and appreciate why the latter saw things differently."

This first half of the quote (one of the two conditions) has changed the way I view numerous things in my day to day life. Though it doesn't change my viewpoint in terms of my beliefs or stance on any given issue, it does give me patience and understanding for people with an opposing view. It allows me to view an issue more fairly and overall helps the situation when someone sees why you think a specific way instead of merely promoting their views over yours in a condescending manner.

"Secondly, human reason did not operate in a psychological and moral vacuum. Human beings were complex creatures full of prejudices, sympathies, and antipathies, all of which distorted and circumscribed the power of reason. If a person did not care for others, had no fellow-feeling for them, or thought them subhuman, he would not take their interests into account and would find all kinds of reasons to ignore those interests. Even if he rationally appreciated the equal claims of their interests, he would lack the motive to respect and promote them."
   I couldn't have said it any better myself. He then spoke about how not only is our method of discussion flawed, (arguing fundamentally for point A instead of understanding why someone chose point b, sympathizing and inserting your stance) but it is 'inadequate' because it inevitably leads to violence. If one nation speaks with another to no avail, it is then generally acceptable for the nations to fight. This leads me to my (his) 2nd point,, the view that all people are (somewhat) good and bad, and therefore everyone is salvageable. Yes, everyone.

                         Chapter 4, Satyāgraha - Soul-force
"Gandhi concluded that, since the two methods of fighting against injustice (debate & subsequent violence) were inadequate or deeply flawed, we needed a new method. It should activate the soul, mobilize the individual's latent moral energies, appeal to both the head and the heart, and create a climate conducive to peaceful resolution of conflict conducted in a spirit of mutual goodwill. Gandhi thought that his method of satyāgraha met this requirement. ... For Gandhi, satyāgraha, meaning civil insistence on or tenacity in the pursuit of truth, aimed to penetrate the barriers of prejudice, ill-will, dogmatism, self-righteousness, and selfishness, and to reach out to and activate the soul of the opponent. However degenerate or dogmatic a human being might be, he had a soul, and hence the capacity to feel for other human beings and acknowledge their common humanity. Even a Hitler or Mussolini was not beyond redemption. They too loved their parents, wives, children, friends, and pet animals, thereby displaying the basic human capacity for fellow-feeling. Their problem was not that they lacked that capacity but rather that it was limited to a few, and our task was to find ways of expanding it."
   This line of thinking is exceptional to me because it leaves no human being behind. Of course, different levels of energy would have to be exerted to expand the caring capacity of varying people, but that all works towards the improvement of society.

The third point of mine was Gandhi's view that you could not hurt anyone else without hurting yourself.

        Chapter 3, Human Nature - Human Interdependence
"For Gandhi, human beings could not degrade or brutalize others without degrading or brutalizing themselves, or inflict  psychic and moral damage on others without inflicting it on themselves as well. This was so in at least three ways. To degrade others was to imply that a human being may be so treated, and thus to lower the moral minimum due to every human being from which all alike suffered. Secondly, to degrade others was to damage their pride, self-respect, and potential for good, and hence both to deny the benefits of their possible contributions and to increase the collective moral, psychological, and financial cost of repairing the damage they were likely to do to themselves and others. Thirdly, as beings capable of morality and critical self-reflection, human beings could not degrade or  maltreat others without hardening themselves against the latter's suffering, building up distorted systems of self-justification, coarsening their moral sensibilities, and lowering their own and the collective level of humanity. As Gandhi put it, no man 'takes another down a pit without descending into it himself and sinning in the bargain'. Since humanity was indivisible, every human being was responsible to and for others and should be deeply concerned about how they lived."
  In one paragraph, we've established humanity as indivisible and explained why you cannot hurt anyone without hurting yourself. Need I say anymore ? If you haven't read much about Gandhi and are even somewhat interested in him or the points above, get this book (or another one.. it's all learning right?) !

Ways to get this book:
  1. Request it at your local library
  2. Buy it here on Amazon
  3. Find it in your local bookstore
  4. Check cheaper (and greener!) second hands websites such as Thrift Books  or Abe Books. More specifically, here is a link to this book on Abe Books. 


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