What Occupy Wall Street and Gandhi have in common (and what they don’t)

A friend recently forward to me an article from The New York Times on Gandhi in NYC. It’s an excellent article, well written, and I agree with Mr. Desai’s assessment of what Gandhi would’ve thought about Occupy Wall Street. I’d highly recommend the article to those interested in Gandhi and how he continues to influence the world. The article is a refreshing reminder of a life changing experience I had in India, which I’d like to share.

After a few months into my Indicorps Fellowship, I began questioning my social conditioning, my biases and, in general, my way of looking at the world. During this turbulent, introspective phase, I came across a short book which had exerts from Gandhi’s writings. I found Gandhi’s words inspiring and relevant to my inner journey. I was so moved that I put together a constructive study of Gandhi and his writings. Just before starting this self-study, I met a Gandhian (one who adheres to Gandhi’s way of life), and excitedly shared with him my academic plan. What he said in response rocked me to my very core, and has changed me ever since.

He said, “All this is good and I’m glad you want to learn more about Gandhi. But, more important than reading Gandhi is being Gandhi.”

Gandhi’s life was his message. For Gandhi, life was service and service was joy. And service was his path to self-purification. In his autobiography, Gandhi writes, “What I want to achieve–what I have been striving and pinning to achieve these thirty years–is self-realization,” which here can be taken to mean self-purification. So, to really understand Gandhi, one has to walk Gandhi’s path of self-purification, which is tougher to follow than his words and requires one to constantly grope in the dark.

Therefore, I’d humbly like to add to Mr. Desai’s article that for Gandhi, the ultimate goal of non-violent protest is to heighten the moral stature of the protesters through self-purification, which is rooted in humility, non-violence, love and truth expressed in word, deed and thought. This is the most basic yet toughest part of Satyagraha (loosely translated as “non-violent and truthful protest” or “truth-force”). Occupy Wall Street would benefit from incorporating Gandhi’s ideals of self-purification into their movement.

We’re quick to point fingers but hesitant to notice our flaws. We internalize our successes but externalize our failures. We judge others by their actions but judge ourselves by our intentions. Self-purification is therefore a path to help us build our characters and become better people. It’s through bettering ourselves that we can better the world around us, and this is as true for the avid non-violent protester as it is for you and me.

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About Ranjodh Singh
I'm currently an Ally in the Public Allies New York Apprenticeship (www.publicallies.org). Through the apprenticeship, I'm partnered with NYCRx (www.nyxrc.org), a nonprofit organization that improves the health of New Yorkers using public health interventions. I'm excited to continue serving, but doing so closer to health and medicine. I'm also enjoying NYC, which I find to be an enriching environment.

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