What Mahatma Gandhi Can Teach Your Kids
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, respectfully known as Mahatma Ghandi, for many years enjoyed a pristine reputation as the leader of a non-violent civil rights movement and the father of an independent India. In recent times, fueled by new biographies and social media, there has been much discussion and difference of opinion regarding Gandhi’s supposedly pristine character. Some blame him for India’s partition; others question his personal life; still others uphold the unblemished image of the man. But my interest in Mahatma Gandhi is not of a political nature; neither do I seek to comment on his personal life. Regardless of questions raised about his past, Gandhi surely left us with valuable lessons for the present and for the future. With Gandhi Jayanti still fresh in our minds, here’s a list of the Great Soul’s most important lessons to pass on to our children.
ALWAYS DO THE RIGHT THING
Gandhi believed that one doesn’t need to be motivated by results, rewards, or recognition, in order to do the right thing. A recent experiment conducted by the Japanese Red Cross suggests that while children are born with a sense of right and wrong, it’s up to adults to encourage them to follow their moral compass.
“You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing.”
PRACTICE FORGIVENESS, NOT REVENGE
This is an important lesson for young children, since the unsaid rule from playgrounds to siblings’ rooms is usually: “You hit me; I hit you.” On the one hand, while it is good to teach your children to stand up for themselves, it’s better to temper it with the understanding that revenge does little to solve conflicts, physical or otherwise. We must teach our children to take pride in forgiving instead of retaliating.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
While minimalism is a concept that may not be easily absorbed by young minds, the lesson here is to understand that immaterial things often hold more value than material ones. It might be useful to encourage reflection on happy occasions, such as family holidays, by asking questions like, “What did you enjoy the most about this vacation?” Often, kids’ responses are connected to interactions (e.g. “Riding the swings with my cousin”). We can use the opportunity to point out that relationships and human connections tend to bring us the most joy, and therefore, should be value above all else.
“You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them.”
PRACTICE CLEANLINESS AND PERSONAL HYGIENE
Gandhi believed that cleanliness was next to godliness and that hygiene and sanitation were essential to keep communities free of disease. He also fought against the caste system where the job of cleaning toilets and public spaces was thrust upon the Untouchables, or lowest caste. He believed that every man must take responsibility to keep his surroundings clean, and that there was no shame in doing so. We’re sure parents everywhere will agree with us on this one: Even if you have help at home to pick up after your kids, make sure they participate in the cleaning process in order to learn that keeping things clean is a conscious effort.
“We can no more gain God’s blessings with an unclean body than with an unclean mind. A clean body cannot reside in an unclean city.”
SEE THE GOOD IN OTHERS
Young people have always viewed the world in black and white, as easily hurt as they are overjoyed. As adults, we see that human beings are not one dimensional, that even our loved ones have flaws, and people we dislike can surprise us. It is useful to impart this wisdom to children early, even if it’s just to point out that just because a friend does something to upset them, that doesn’t mean the same friend doesn’t care very deeply about them. After all, they, too, have days when they are not their best selves, even if their intentions are good.
“Look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.”
Albert Einstein once said about Mahatma Gandhi: “Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this (Gandhi) walked the earth in flesh and blood.” I hope that Gandhi will continue to live on through the teachings above, in us and in generations to come.