“Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself.”
The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov observed that “Love, friendship, respect do not unite people as much as common hatred for something.” Love is a long road, laden with adversity and challenges. While hated is an easy route to take, it only paves a short-lived cause. We learn in history about the warmongers — The empires they built, and how they eventually toppled down. Because not only is hatred destructive to others and the ones possessing it, it can never reach the same heights that love can.
Take a look at Mahatma Gandhi’s famous Salt March in India. It was a protest against the salt law made by the British rulers, and it was done without an ounce of violence. Gandhi surely wasn’t a fiery orator, and he didn’t have an army or a large organized political party either. But he touched the hearts of millions of supporters who joined the march with him, because he was genuinely motivated by honesty and a deep belief, and that is always hard to resist. He cared about political justice not from a theoretical lens but because he was moved by the plight of every individual.
As they marched onto the beach, Gandhi reached down and carried a lump of natural salt from the mud. He declared, “With this salt, I am shaking the foundations of the empire!”
Gandhi’s hunger for change could have started when he was a young lawyer in apartheid South Africa. He was thrown out of a train, simply because of the color of his skin. As he sat overnight on the cold platform, shivering, he thought about what he hoped to do. “It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings,” he later wrote.
His belief that we could move the world through love instead of fear and hatred will always remain relevant in our society, and for generations to come. In this article, we will explore Gandhi’s lessons on anger and love.
Anger Is A Gift
“Forgiveness is more manly than the punishment.”
It’s always tempting to exact revenge, to act on the law, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But acting vengefully is ultimately self-defeating, because you just become that which you hate. Any victory you gain would also be pyrrhic — They may come easy, but at a higher personal cost. It goes the same way to using anger as a motivation to be successful, to “prove your haters wrong.”
Anger consumes you like fire. You constantly need to fuel it for it to keep burning — It depletes you of your energy, your peace, everything. Your heart is never at rest.
Gandhi’s grandson, Arun, had a lot of rage as a child. After he almost got himself into a fight, he ran to his grandfather and cried, “I am angry all the time. I don’t know what to do.”
Gandhi patted him on the back and said, “Get your spinning wheel and let us both spin some cotton”. As they set up the little machine, Gandhi smiled as he prepared to spin a lesson along with the cotton.
With his fingers turning the wheel, he told Arun, “I am glad to see you can be moved to anger. Anger is good. I get angry all the time.”
Arun responded, “I have never seen you angry.”
“Because I have learned to use my anger for good,” Gandhi explained. “Anger to people is like gas to the automobile — It fuels you to move forward and get to a better place. Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to a challenge. It is an energy that compels us to define what is just and unjust.”
“So I could learn to do that?” asked Arun.
“You are doing it right now,” Gandhi said with a smile. He then explained that their spinning wheels themselves were a great example of how anger could be used to bring positive changes. For centuries, producing cloth had been a cottage industry in India. When the British came, they controlled the industry and sold the cotton back to Indians at high prices. Instead of attacking the British for impoverishing his nation, Gandhi began spinning his own clothes, so that every family could follow his example and be self-sufficient. This nonviolent resistance drove a huge impact all over India and in England.
Giving another anology, Gandhi said, “When we channel electricity intelligently, we can use it to improve our life, but if we abuse it, we could die. So as with electricity, we must learn to use anger wisely for the good of humanity.”
Gandhi believed that we should see our anger as a warning that something is wrong — And that something needs to be done. For that reason, he also taught Arun to keep an anger journal. He told him, “Every time you feel great anger, stop and write down who or what caused your feelings and why you reacted so angrily. The goal is to get to the root of the anger. Only when you understand the source can you find a solution.”
Plenty of times, we find ourselves being angry at people who treat us poorly. But if you look past their façade, bullies and mean people are often the weakest and most insecure, because they have a huge need to feel that they are better or more deserving than others. To be able to understand their viewpoint, and to forgive them, is the sign of true strength.
All too many people have seen power and love as polar opposites…(But) the two fulfill each other. Power without love is reckless, and love without power is sentimental.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
As a young man, Gandhi once wrote a letter to his parents admitting to a lie. Instead of berating him, his father cried and hugged him. He later wrote that his father “helped me wash my sins away in tears.”
Arun wrote of his grandfather, “If his father had slapped him or shamed him or confined him to his room, would my grandfather have become a different person? An angry or vengeful Gandhi could not have influenced the world as he did. Perhaps it’s not too much to say that the fate of millions might rest on the love or anger we show on our own children.”
Nobody likes to be bullied. We all crave to be understood and appreciated. It’s important to correct wrongs when you see them, but it’s also crucial that you do so in a loving way.
Instead of criticizing or badmouthing, instead try to praise the person on what she does right. She will be inspired to improve on her faults because she would come from a place of feeling good about herself.
As Arun wrote, “People turn defensive and rebellious when attacked. But finding something to praise and admire will promote the behaviors you like and hope to encourage.”
Using anger as our motivation to correct wrongs is a great thing, but only if our intentions are right — That is, to actually seek a solution and not just gain the satisfaction of thinking we’re right.
And of course, the height of nonviolence is when you can love those who hate you.
When Gandhi lead his protests, he did so without anger. He never referred to the police or the administration as the opposing side. His goal was to win the sympathy of everyone, to educate them, even. When the police came to make arrests, Gandhi and his supporters peacefully submitted. Many of those who opposed him were touched by his tenderness. He was told by the Prime Minister, General Jan C. Smuts, “You are always so respectful, kind, and considerate that it is hard to crush you with violence. It was much easier to attack the strikers who displayed so much anger.”
“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of teaching.”
Just a week before Gandhi was assassinated, a reporter asked him, “What do you think will happen with your philosophy after you die?” He replied with immense sadness, “The people will follow me in life, worship me in death, but not make my cause their cause.”
The best way to honor a person isn’t always to replicate his largest accomplishments, but to practice his teachings in the smallest ways — Maybe by being more loving towards the people in your life, for a start. When you’re with a loved one, keep your phone away. Never let her get the thought that she isn’t worth your full attention. Make others feel heard and important to you. Never let your focus wander. You can also take very small steps in using your anger for good — If someone gives you a hard time, instead of reciprocating, pray for him so that he would change.
Still, even in the smallest steps, these habits can be tough nurture sometimes. But as Gandhi said, “I know how difficult it is to follow this grand law of love. But are not all great and good things difficult to do? Love of the hater is the most difficult of all. But even the most difficult thing becomes easy to accomplish if we want to do it.”