Come in Peace

Arun Gandhi speaks at Pacific University on Feb. 28, 2013.

March 1, 2013

Arun Gandhi brings lessons in peace from his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, to Pacific University.

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Walking to campus Thursday night was a bit like walking to a pro-sporting event. There were fewer jerseys and less raucous cheering, but foot traffic on the sidewalks along Forest Grove’s Main Street was certainly higher than the average weeknight.

Small groups made their way from parking lots and from the neighborhoods around Pacific University, converging on an entrance line that streamed out the door of the Bill & Cathy Stoller Center. Those with tickets waited to find a seat amid the 700 chairs and 1,000 bleacher spots prepared for the sold-out event. Others waited without tickets, hoping for last-minute openings in the venue.

Inside, the crowd ranged from college students — from Pacific and elsewhere — to families with middle-school-age children to elderly couples from the community taking advantage of the rare opportunity to hear from peace activist Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Karamchand “Mahatma” Gandhi.

With silvery hair hanging a little long over his ears and temple and dark-rimmed classes perched on a bearded face, Arun Gandhi stood at a Pacific University podium to share with the crowd the lessons he learned from his grandfather amid the quest for India’s independence.

Arun himself grew up in South Africa, where his grandfather had garnered attention for using non-violent civil disobedience to fight for the civil rights of Indians living there. But Arun still grew up in the Apartheid era, and he told of being beaten in turns by white kids for being to dark-skinned and by black kids for being too white.

“It filled me with rage,” he said. “I wanted eye-for-an-eye justice.”

His parents, strong believers in non-violence themselves, sent him to India to live with his grandfather for a few years.

The lessons he learned at his grandfather’s side had nothing to do with eliminating anger, though — and everything to do with learning to control and use anger in a positive way.

Anger, he said, is like electricity — useful and powerful if channeled constructively; deadly if abused.

His grandfather taught him to keep an anger journal, not just pouring his frustrations into the book, but documenting them with a commitment to searching for solutions. He taught him to focus his mind, so that he could learn to avoid acting in moments of anger. He taught him to value and respect even the smallest gifts — there was a story about a small pencil Arun threw away and his grandfather making him go find it — both out of respect for the world’s resources and to avoid over-consuming at the expense of those who have less. And, he taught him to identify not only physical violence but the passive violence that people commit each day.

Arun admitted he wasn’t always a perfect student. He recalled “testing” his grandfather by trying, repeatedly and at inappropriate moments, to get a free autograph (Gandhi sold his autograph daily to help fund the emancipation and peace causes he supported).

“He never gave me the autograph,” Arun said. “But he never shooed me out, either.”

Today, Arun said, the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi are as important, if not more so, than they were 50 years ago.