Anger into Courage:  A Conversation with Peace Activist Arun Gandhi

Arun Gandhi OMNIA Institute Interview on Leadership and the Gift of Anger

Recently OMNIA’s Vince Isner sat down with Arun Gandhi, 5th Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi to discuss his latest book, “The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from my Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi." .” In this, the first of three posts, Mr. Gandhi describes how at age eleven he was sent to live with his grandfather, world-renowned, powerful leader, Mahatma Gandhi. For two pivotal years Arun learned pivotal life lessons about social justice and community transformation that have guided his steps ever since. Though the fight against hate and extremism can often feel endless and overwhelming, remembering the incredible efforts of a man such as Mahatma Gandhi can and should inspire us all!

VI:  Your grandfather taught you that anger is a gift. What did your grandfather mean and what does that mean to you?

Gandhi: My grandfather said to me that anger is a wonderful emotion. It’s not something that we should be ashamed of. It’s a very powerful emotion but what we need to do is to learn how to channel it intelligently, so that we can use it effectively. He said anger is like electricity.  It is just as useful and just as powerful but only when we use it intelligently. It can also be just as deadly and destructive if we abuse it. So we must learn to channel anger so that we can use that energy for the good of humanity rather than abuse it and cause violence. 

VI:  Do you think sometimes that the reason for that might be that there's such a close relationship with anger and feelings of loss of control?

Gandhi: Yes, there's a close of relationship between loss of control and fear and all of these negative things add up to anger and abusing anger. We colloquially say that when somebody is angry they are “mad" and we are literally mad at the moment because we are not in control of our minds. When we are not in control of our minds, we do wrong things. So in order to be able to use this energy positively, we need to have control of the mind. That can be done through regular exercises, just as we do physical exercise for the strong body. 

VI:  How?

Gandhi: Just (having) an education doesn't give us the ability to control the mind and the result is that you see at any given moment, our mind is filled with a dozen different thoughts, which are all racing through the mind at the same time - and to that extent, we’re distracted from what is happening and we can't stop it because we have no control over it. 

Mahatma Gandhi: wiki commons

Mahatma Gandhi: wiki commons

Grandfather showed me a simple exercise. He asked me to sit quietly in the room for a few minutes every day and hold in front of me something that gave me pleasure to look at. It could be a flower, a photograph or whatever,  but for one minute I had to focus my full attention on that object and then close my eyes and see how long I could keep that image in my mind. In the beginning, I found that the moment I closed my eyes the image vanished because I had no control over it.  But when I began doing this exercise regularly every day, I found that I could keep that image longer and longer in my mind and to that extent, my mind was coming under my control.

VI:   I found there are two kinds of anger - one is heart-centered, and most of the time we can learn to deal with that by listening to the other person and seeking to understand. But the other kind - what I call “structural anger” is far more difficult. That has to do with structural injustices - such as slavery, or unjust laws designed intentionally to hurt others. Those are the ones your grandfather took on.

Gandhi: Yes. The difference for him was what we generally accept as inevitable because government has said it is so - he taught that we don't have to. Instead we have to stand up for justice. That is what non-violence allows individuals to do. It empowers every individual to take action. You don't have to wait for a big group of people to support you, you just begin to take action and the people will follow it.

VI:  Turning anger into courage.

Gandhi: Yes, if we learn to channel anger effectively and positively, it can turn into courage, it can turn into something positive that we can use.  When my grandfather announced the launching of the Salt March, which was supposed to be the straw that broke the camel's back, (that is to say, the empire’s back!) everybody laughed at him. The British administration as well as the Indian leaders said; “You're going to bring down the British Empire by defying the Salt Laws?” It seemed so ridiculous, but he said, “Yes I can do that” and when he launched the march, he hand-picked only seventy-nine people to go with him. However that one selfless act of walking two hundred and forty five miles to the seashore in order to break the law inspired the people so much that within twenty days millions turned out. The march took twenty five days to cover. In those twenty five days, millions of people all over the country were inspired by him and the British were totally left aghast.  They didn’t know what to do.

"The Gift of Anger:  And Other Lessons from my Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi is available on Amazon.

Next post: Mr. Gandhi shares how his grandfather used a disused pencil stub as a tool for understanding violence.