Lessons from my grandfather Gandhi
Smyth Memorial Lecture by Dr Arun Gandhi
by Brian McATEER for Northern Ireland Foundation
23 June 2016
The formal launch of the John Hume and Thomas P. (“Tip”) O’ Neill Chair in Peace occurred at the Great Hall, Magee campus of Ulster University, Derry-Londonderry, with the inaugural Smyth Memorial lecture delivered by Dr Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.
In a hall containing naval memorabilia, denoting Magee’s recent history as a Royal Navy operational post, co-ordinating the fight against the Nazi U-boat threat, it was poignant that Dr Gandhi spoke on “Building a culture of peace: Lessons from my grandfather”.
Dr Gandhi was preceded on stage by a host of luminaries associated with peace studies.
Professor Paul Carmichael, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, opened proceedings by explaining the reasons for the establishment of the Chair, and regretting the unavailability due to illness of Professor John Hume. Professor Carmichael noted the singularity of John Hume’s achievements in holding the three major world peace prizes — the Nobel, the Martin Luther King and the Gandhi prizes — and he emphasised the individual roles Hume and O’Neill played in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.
Dr Adrian Johnston, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, spoke of the monumental role both men played in creating conditions for a political settlement in Northern Ireland, and their skill in internationalising the Troubles conflict.
Representing the Hume family, Dr Pat Hume welcomed Dr Gandhi: “The importance of his grandfather’s message of non-violence, based on the foundation of love and respect, compassion, understanding and acceptance, is still relevant in this increasingly turbulent world.”
Dr Thomas P O’Neill III, son of Tip O’Neill, related how his father would have been honoured to have his name associated with John Hume, but stressed how these two were baptised by another: “The origin in modern history of peace, brought about in a non-violent way, for the essence of equity and justice to be realised, was really at the hands of the great Mahatma. It was the others that followed him, because they had been reminded of what peace can do.”
A video message from Emmy-nominated actress and producer, Dr Roma Downey, was relayed to the audience, in which she offered congratulations to Professor Brandon Hamber for being the first holder of the Chair and predicted the “amazing” work that would ensue. She highlighted John Hume’s inspiration by Martin Luther King, and, choking on the words, quoted:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that,
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Professor Brandon Hamber quoted some stark statistics reminding the audience of the current catastrophic conflicts in Iraq and Syria, which numbered not only killings but massive displacement and environmental and financial cost. But he felt confident that the work that would be done can empower a new generation, not just among academics, but in all spheres, to understand the underlying causes of conflict and to address solutions.
That Dr Arun Ghandi’s taking to the stage dressed not in the traditional dhoti, but in a business suit (belying his agrarian heritage) did not tarnish his image as a cultivator could be due to the previous speaker’s introduction. Professor Hamber informed the gathering that Dr Ghandi’s business card reads simply, “Dr Arun Gandhi – Peace Farmer”.
Dr Ghandi shared his history of how he travelled to live with his grandfather in India, having been sent there from his home in South Africa by his parents, who worried about the violence he had witnessed. He confided he had been attacked on two occasions — once by whites who thought he looked too dark, and once by blacks who considered him too light. His grandfather began to teach him many lessons about peace which he continues to share.
The first was to understand anger: “85% of violence comes from anger. But anger, channelled appropriately can be used intelligently, and an anger journal is an essential tool,” he said. The second lesson is to have a strong mind, brought about by meditation; his grandfather would make him sit in a room and concentrate for one minute on a flower, then try and remember the image.
In describing the origins of conflict, Dr Gandhi cited two major areas — the violence of poverty and violence against nature — and he reminisced on his grandfather’s absolute concern for resources. Mahatma handed him a flashlight one evening, insisting he go back out and retrieve the stub of a pencil he had thrown away, rather than be provided with new one. Dr Gandhi’s message was that ending wars is in itself not enough: “We must then purge our minds of hate. We must respond to our moral obligations. The more materialistic we become, the less moral we become. Ultimately, we ourselves have to become the change that we want in the world.”