One of the purposes behind the Love and Forgiveness Project is to highlight the impact that one person can make. Mahatma Gandhi is one such person who made a monumental contribution in the areas of love and forgiveness. His impact not only profoundly changed the course of Indian history, but the history of the world and his message of love and forgiveness still inspires others all over the world today. Gandhi inspired and influenced millions of people, including many of our exemplars of love and forgiveness.
During the civil rights movement in the US, many prominent leaders were followers of Gandhi. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Lawson, and John Lewis all studied Gandhi’s works. They were not only believers, but practitioners of Gandhi’s teachings on love and forgiveness. Martin Luther King, Jr. made a trip to India to learn more about Gandhi. He said of the experience, “I left India more convinced than ever before that nonviolent resistance was the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. It was a marvelous thing to see the amazing results of a nonviolent campaign. India won her independence, but without violence on the part of Indians. The aftermath of hatred and bitterness that usually follows a violent campaign was found nowhere in India.”[i]
In Asia, Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi has commented on how she considers Gandhi to be one of her greatest inspirations and encouraged others to read his works. “Gandhi is somebody really phenomenal. I think you must all read his works, the more you read Gandhi, the more impressed you are by who he was and what he was.”[ii]
In Africa, Nelson Mandela is one of the most well-known followers of Gandhi. Nelson Mandela gave a speech at the Gandhi Memorial in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1993. In that speech Mandela said, “Today as we strive to achieve a date for the first democratic elections in this country, the legacy of Gandhiji has an immediate relevance. He negotiated in good faith and without bitterness. But when the oppressor reneged he returned to mass resistance. He combined negotiation and mass action and illustrated that the end result through either means was effective. Gandhi is most revered for his commitment to non-violence and the Congress Movement was strongly influenced by this Gandhian philosophy, it was a philosophy that achieved the mobilisation of millions of South Africans…” He also said, “Now more than ever is the time when we have to pay heed to the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi.”[iii]
Gandhi’s influence stretched much farther than the few instances mentioned here, but the influence he had over some of the world’s greatest leaders stands as an example of his legacy. While most individuals will not have the massive impact that Gandhi did, he stands as an example of what one individual can do with the principles of love and forgiveness. This one man both taught and lived a life of love and forgiveness and as US President Obama said “…changed the world just by the power of his ethics.”[iv]
[i] Carson, Clayborne, ed. 2001. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Grand Central Publishing, Google ebook, chapter 13.
[ii] “Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatama Gandhi among greatest sources of influence: Suu Kyi.” NDTV, September 23, 2012. Available at: http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/jawaharlal-nehru-mahatama-gandhi-among-greatest-sources-of-influence-suu-kyi-271050
[iii] Mandela, Nelson. 1993. “Nelson Mandela’s speech at unveiling of Gandhi Memorial.” Available at http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=4089
[iv] Stabley, Matthew. “Obama’s Ideal Dinner Guest: Gandhi.” NBC, September 8, 2009. Available at: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Obama-Would-Love-to-Host-Gandhi-for-a-Small-Meal-57749342.html