So, if you are anything at all like me, you might have to admit that, underneath it all, you are angry – and angry most, if not all, of the time. I know I am. This is not the world I bargained for. This is not the economic system I bargained for, the political system I bargained for, the system of education I bargained for. I never signed up for global racism, for worldwide environmental collapse, for overpowering patriarchal institutions that devalue more than half the world’s population, for a cloud of nuclear war hanging over my head.
I’ll stop there. My list could get much, much longer and more depressing, and my blood pressure might rise. I have learned, and not easily, to carry myself with a pretty even temper.
Like most of you perhaps, I hold it together pretty well. I delight in things like the local annual Edison Chicken Parade, in news of Lamborghinis sinking to the bottom of the deep blue sea, in my worldwide family (who have occasion for far greater anger than I do), in my good cooking (and I am grateful to have sufficient food at all), and in my wife and my Friends meeting.
Yet, anger lurks beneath the surface. And if you are angry, too, know that we are in good company – with Gandhi, for example.
Gandhi wrote, “It is not that I do not get angry. I don’t give vent to my anger. I cultivate the quality of patience as angerlessness, and generally speaking, I succeed. . . How I find it possible to control [my anger] would be a useless question, for it is a habit that everyone must cultivate and must succeed in forming by constant practice.”
Yet Gandhi also discovered, through his “experiments with truth,” that anger can be harnessed and that seemingly intractable problems don’t have to remain the way they are. “I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.”
We are all born afresh into this world. Although we face genetic and epigenetic limits to whom we can be and what we can do, those limits are very wide. Then our social systems work to train us, every day and every hour, to fit into the ways and norms of our society and culture. We might call this the colonization of our hearts and minds.
But somehow, in ways not easily explained, the Light shines through the walls. All things remain possible, especially if we remain committed to “doing what we can’t.” However, you have to see the walls clearly if you want to see beyond them and ultimately break them down. That’s how
Gandhi’s nonviolent assault was on just about everything. And as his understanding increased, so did his anger . . . and so did his commitment. Gandhi was a strategic thinker, but not a systemic one. He took the challenges as they came. He didn’t spend much time prioritizing actions, but instead followed the guidance of his unwavering commitment to “the last man and the last woman.” His goal was ultimately to create new men and new women through nonviolence – to enhance the dignity of the human person and the human personality.
And, always, new possibilities are being born.
The core of Gandhi for us, I think, is not in the creation of philosophies, but in the power of story. What new stories can we create, discover, rediscover for ourselves and for our world? How can we tell of the wall, and the chinks in the wall, and ways the Light can seep through?
Ultimately, I think Gandhi was a happy man.
David Albert is a founder of Friendly Water for the World and a member of Olympia Friends Meeting (NPYM). In 2021, he was presented with the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation international award for the promotion of Gandhian values worldwide. Write him to arrange a presentation to your meeting on “Gandhi and Me: A Self-Reflective Inquiry.” David[at]friendlywater[dot]org.
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