Arun Gandhi began his talk to a packed auditorium of students and educators in Delano on Monday with a simple exercise for the crowd.
Everybody was partnered with another person. One team member held an imaginary very precious diamond inside their clenched fist. Their partner was tasked with getting the gem from them. After 30 seconds of struggle, only a couple of people were able to get their partner’s fist open and every team used physical effort to try to force the fist to open up. Gandhi asked the crowd, “Tell me honestly, how many of you asked the other person to open the fist?” No one. That simple exercise showed the audience how violence, whether passive or physical, has become part of our culture, our default behavior.
Gandhi then related the lessons he learned from his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, about anger and how to channel that energy constructively and that sustained real change in our world will only happen when we truly transform ourselves internally from a violent, selfish mindset to one of love and compassion for our neighbor. This internal change is not easy, especially in today’s ultra-competitive, scarcity-obsessed world. It takes an extended, dedicated, conscious effort to train the mind and heart.
It took many years of exercising his mind toward this internal transformation of his own soul for Mohandas K. Gandhi to become the person we call “Mahatma” (“Great Soul”) Gandhi and continued mental exercising to retain that enlightened state of compassion and love for his fellow human and creation. Arun Gandhi explained that “if we don’t change our attitudes and behavior and relationships, we will never be able to bring peace into this world.” That is what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he said “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Christians who know their Bible will recall a similar saying of Jesus, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person.”
Arun Gandhi spoke at CSUB on Sept. 28 along with Nipun Mehta, founder of ServiceSpace.org, as the final event of a year-long celebration of the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, coordinated by the Gandhi Celebration Committee for Truth, Justice and Non-Violence and the Naina and Ravi Patel Foundation. Bakersfield College is using Arun Gandhi’s talk in Delano, along with an earlier talk by Thomas Blackwell, to begin its year of celebrating Gandhi’s 150th.
Later this month on Oct. 23, Paula Green will present "Peacebuilding in Divided Communities” based on her decades of international work in building sustained peace in war-torn countries and more recently, authentically bridging political and racial divides in the U.S.
In 2009, Green received an “Unsung Hero of Compassion” award from the Dalai Lama which is awarded to “individuals who, through their loving kindness and service to others, have made their communities and our world a better place.” An excellent fit in BC’s Gandhi 150th celebration.
After the 2016 presidential election, Green increased her focus on restoring internal U.S. relations fractured by political and cultural divides. Engaging communities antagonistic to each other because of their political allegiances or racial backgrounds, she now consults and mentors other communities that hope to bridge divides in their cities or organizations.
I heard about her first in a radio interview last November as she described the work of the “Hands Across the Hills” project that brought together two communities in eastern Kentucky and western Massachusetts with very different political views and educational and social backgrounds to truly understand and value each other. It took time and intentionality to build trust. I thought she needed to come to Bakersfield to help us learn about building bridges over political, racial and cultural divides. She agreed.
Please join us at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at Forum 101 on the Bakersfield College main campus to engage with a compassionate person who has the expertise and practical experience in building bridges.
Nick Strobel is a professor of astronomy at Bakersfield College and writer of a bi-monthly star-gazing column.