The meaning of peace

Arun Gandhi speaks about his grandfather at Human Rights Banquet

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Arun Gandhi, grandson of Indian civil rights activist Mahatma Gandhi, visits with attendees of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations 14th annual human rights banquet on Monday in Coeur d'Alene.

COEUR d'ALENE - We have to become the change we wish to see in the world.

It was his grandfather's message, and Arun Gandhi, grandson of the legendary pacifist and spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi, carried that message Monday to North Idaho.

Arun shared some of the lessons he learned from his grandfather with more than 450 people who attended the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations' 14th annual Human Rights Banquet at the Best Western Coeur d'Alene Inn.

"Non-violence is about learning how to be with your anger and learning how to channel it positively and constructively," Arun told the crowd.

Like his grandfather, Arun learned the benefits of peaceful conflict resolution from his own life experiences.

Arun grew up in apartheid South Africa. He was beaten at the age of 10 by blacks who thought he was too white, and whites who thought he was too black.

Arun began working out, trying to gain strength because he was planning a physical response. That's when his parents sent him to live with his grandfather in India.

"Anger is like electricity," Arun said.

If electricity is channeled properly, it can be used for the good of humanity, he said. Without proper direction, electricity becomes dangerous and destructive.

His grandfather showed him how to become aware of his own anger through daily self-assessment. Arun was told to keep an anger journal, with a caveat. He had to write with a focus on finding a solution, and then commit to it.

Another of his grandfather's lessons came from a pencil. It had become too small, so Arun threw it away, because he assumed his grandfather would give him a new one.

That didn't happen. His grandfather grilled Arun about the pencil, and then made him go find it outside in the dark, which took several hours.

His grandfather then told him, "Even in the making of a simple thing like a pencil, you are using the world's resources. When you throw it away, that is violence against nature." That led to a lesson about over-consumption, "violence against humanity," that occurs, Arun said, when affluent communities and countries use more resources than they need, leaving less for others who are disadvantaged.

"We are all committing violence, directly or indirectly," he said.

His grandfather taught him about physical and passive violence by again, having Arun review and analyze his own thoughts and behaviors. The problem with passive violence, he said, is that it generates anger in the victim.

"Passive violence fuels physical violence," he said.

It serves no purpose to wait for others to change, he said. People can only change themselves, and be the change they wish to see in the world.

"Our relationships today are so poor because they are all based on self-interest," Arun said.

Another problem he sees is a justice system based on revenge and punishment rather than reformation, a culture that seeps into homes where children are raised.

"This perpetuates a culture of violence," Arun said. "In a non-violent society, it is not punishment that is important, but penance."

People need to stop trying to divide the good from the evil, he said, and begin focusing on bringing out the good in all people.

Try finding forgiveness instead of reacting in anger, he suggested. Violence only cultivates more violence, hate, prejudice, and evil.

He told a story about how his grandfather, while preparing an anti-apartheid campaign, was approached by striking railway workers who were marching and spewing angry slogans. The workers asked the elder Gandhi to join their cause, because they were fighting "the same enemy."

Arun's grandfather told them, "I'm not fighting enemies. I'm trying to reform my friends."

The workers' anger weakened their cause, allowing the government to "crush them."

The elder Gandhi's campaign could not be crushed, Arun said, because he didn't treat the other as his enemy, and worked to transform them with love and respect.

Before closing, Arun told a story about an ancient king who sought the meaning of peace. An old sage placed a grain of wheat in the ancient king's palm and told him that was the meaning of peace. The king didn't understand it, but he put the grain in a box, and opened it every day looking for answers. Eventually, the king asked an intellectual what the grain of wheat meant. The king was told that as long as he keeps the grain in the box, it will eventually rot and perish. He must expose the grain of wheat to the elements, to allow it to grow and flourish.

"That is the meaning of peace," Arun said.

It cannot be kept locked up and expected to grow.

"I have come here this evening to give you a grain of wheat," he said.

Arun Gandhi and his late wife, Sunanda, founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at The University of Rochester in New York. He travels throughout the nation, and the world, promoting his grandfather's teachings.

The task force's annual Civil Rights Award was presented to Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh in recognition of his efforts in successfully prosecuting hate crimes.

Marissa Williams, publisher, and Scott Callister, editor of the Blue Mountain Eagle, a weekly newspaper covering Grant County, Ore., were also given a civil rights award by the group. The newspaper was recognized for organizing a community response in 2010 that prevented a white supremacist leader from establishing a homeland in that county.

The Bill Wassmuth Memorial Volunteer-of-the-Year Award was given to former Coeur d'Alene School District Superintendent Doug Cresswell, a longtime former board member of the task force. Cresswell was president of the task force board from 1997 through 2001. During that time, the task force countered parades organized by Aryan Nation leaders with a successful "Lemons to Lemonade" fundraising campaign that raised thousands of dollars for human rights groups. It was also during that time that the Keenan v. Aryan Nations trial took place. The case eventually bankrupted the white supremacist organization, and forced them to lose their Hayden Lake compound.

Recipients of this year's Senator Mary Lou Reed and Governor Phil Batt North Idaho College Minority Scholarships are Tim Clark, Katherine Sailto, Rose Childs and Igor Sivov.

The task force also presented a check to the Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies to establish a permanent student scholarship in memory of Eva Lassman.

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