Arun grew up far from the plains of Nebraska. Born and raised in South Africa, he suffered violent bullying because his Indian heritage meant he didn’t fit into the white or black cliques. Finally, at age 12, Arun decided to fight fire with fire, and started exercising and training to fight back.
Concerned for his well-being, Arun’s parents took him on an extended trip back to their native India to stay with his grandfather, Mohandas K. Gandhi—better known as Mahatma Gandhi.
The 18-month vacation coincided with the elder Gandhi’s peaceful protests against British imperialism. During his stay, Arun’s mind filled with the powerful philosophy of nonviolence, but he also experienced the danger and excitement from the ongoing revolution. Those childhood experiences in India ultimately shaped his views and morals of social harmony, courage, and hope.
Arun Gandhi will speak at Union College’s annual Leadership Symposium on Oct. 11. Gandhi will speak twice that day, at 10:30 a.m. in the College View Church sanctuary and at 7:00 p.m. in Woods Auditorium. The title of the morning presentation will be “Gandhi on Leadership” and the evening presentation will be titled “Lessons Learned from my Grandfather: Nonviolence in a Violent World.”
Learning from Grandfather Gandhi
At the 2015 Common Ground Conference, Arun Gandhi told a story about an early experience with his grandfather. The elder Gandhi was involved in many projects, such as the freedom for India, rights for women, and education for children, but lacked funds to continue his work. Gandhi developed a plan: he would sell his autographs to audiences who had come to see him speak for five rupees each.
Arun wanted an autograph too, but didn’t have the necessary payment. When he presented the autograph book to his grandfather, Gandhi told him even grandsons had to pay.
“I’ll get that autograph for free!” Arun promised angrily.
“We’ll see,” replied the grandfather with a chuckle.
After that conversation, Arun often barged into his grandfather’s political meetings, waved his autograph book in the air, and demanded Gandhi sign it. Even when everyone else in the meeting told the elder Gandhi to just sign it so Arun would go away, he simply covered Arun’s mouth and pulled him into his chest. “Never once did he ask me to leave the room,” the younger Gandhi concluded.
“The first lesson he taught me was that anger is like electricity,” Gandhi said. “It’s just as useful and just as powerful, but only if we use it intelligently. But it can be just as deadly and destructive if we abuse it.” Mahatma Gandhi had Arun write in an “anger journal” during his stay. Instead of doing or saying anything that could change the course of his life negatively, such as getting into fights or saying something hurtful in the heat of an argument, he wrote his thoughts and feelings down.
“Write the journal with the intention of finding a solution to the problem,” his grandfather told him. “And then commit yourself to finding a solution.”
Carrying on the Gandhi legacy
Since his childhood trip to the Asian subcontinent, Arun Gandhi has led many projects to help with political and economical reform in India. He first came to the United States to complete a research study on racism in America in 1987. Gandhi and his late wife, Sunanda, opened the doors of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester in 1991. In 2007, Gandhi started the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, founded to build educational and training centers for children living in extreme poverty and being exploited by society. In 2013, he was invited to be on the board of Legacy of Hope, Nelson Mandela’s foundation for children’s hospitals in Africa.
Gandhi has given speeches and lectures for hundreds of colleges, universities, businesses, and civil organizations. His unique talents and cross-cultural experiences have taken him all over the world, including Brazil, Croatia, France, Ireland, Italy, Holland, Lithuania, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Nicaragua. He has published more than 30 books, including Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story with Bethany Hegedus and Evan Turk; Nonviolent Communications: A Language of Life with Marshall B. Rosenberg; Legacy of Love: My Education in the Path of Nonviolence; and Daughter of Midnight.
Learning to Lead
Gandhi’s talks are part of the annual Union College Leadership Symposium, sponsored by the leadership program. “The leadership program at Union helps students to develop their personal leadership potential for optimum effectiveness in life,” Dr. Linda Becker, founder and director of the program, which allows students to earn a minor in leadership alongside almost any major.
Students who enroll in the program take advantage of leadership classes, peer mentoring, and weekly meetings focused on improving leadership skills. The course teaches students leadership, peer mentoring and internship opportunities. “We want to make sure all students have a chance to exercise their abilities and to connect and learn from other leaders before they graduate,” said Becker.
Both October 11 talks will be held on Union College’s campus and are free and open to the public. The 10:30 talk will be held at the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church, located on the corner of 48th and Prescott Streets. The 7:00 talk will be held in Woods Auditorium, located in the Don Love Building, located near 49th and Bancroft Streets.
By Elizabeth Bearden, student writer