Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gandhi, Martin Luther King and me

It is the current fashion to throw "inspirational" quotations from famous people around in lieu of actually taking action. Before you get upset and tell me that the devil makes work for idle hands before flouncing off to read some more worthy blog, take a moment and think about it. We see these quotations up everywhere, on coffee mugs, office signs, training manuals, bumper stickers and most importantly, social media memes. Most people don't even know who the "famous one" is, but they repeat the quote, nodding and marveling at the worthiness of it. 

One of my favourites is attributed to the Mahatma M. K. Gandhi " you must be the change you wish to see in the world". How often have you seen that one? People use it on their email signature, instant messaging app id, one notable placement, the back of a bathroom door in London, England. Considering that Gandhi-ji has been deceased for more than sixty years, it's quite legacy that stuff he said several generations ago still has currency.  Gandhi died almost before my mother was born, and yet, in my family, he was spoken about as if he were someone we knew.  His untimely death remained fresh in the minds of my maternal grandparents and he was considered a hero for his Quit India Movement, which by the way, was anything but non-violent. 

Those words have long been attributed to Gandhi, it even sounds like something he might have said in a sage-like moment. As far as anyone can tell from hours of research, he never actually said them. What he said, probably most went something like this, " if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him..... We need not wait to see what others do." Big difference huh. It's easy to SAY things, much harder to change yourself. 

And then there is Martin Luther King. Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech remains one of the most inspirational, motivational talks in recent history. Recorded for posterity it is a little harder to bastardise into a bumper sticker. Dr. King said a lot of things, some of them right, some of them a little off base but he was a man who to all intents and purposes stood for the courage of his convictions.  

The interesting thing about these two gentlemen and others like them, their words relate specifically to their circumstances and the times in which they lived. Their lives remain a symbol of purpose to many people throughout the world. These two men are considered exceptional and have earned their place in history, even as we continue to distill it down to cute little bumper stickers while blithely continuing on, business as usual. 

Perhaps it's easier to paste on a bumper sticker or click "like" on Facebook but these are not actions, they are activities. Unless you plan to change your behaviour to make a change in the world, shut up and move along. Don't say it if you don't mean it because then it's just a bunch of words. No one says that you have to go out and start a revolution, but revolutions have been started as simply as women banging pots in the road and marching for food. Human beings are the only species who pay to live on this planet and yet we treat it with scant respect. And yet, all change starts with one person. To paraphrase Dr. King, "faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase".  

1 comment:

Gabriela said...

I think if more people could leave Facebook and use that time they spend marking LIKES and SHARES into something useful, the world would be a much better place.