Civic-mindedness is necessary, in proportion to the number of people we meet. This is obvious when my neighbourhood suddenly turns into a shopping mall on weekends.
The Plateau is overrun. Sacred motorized cows are grazing everywhere on the asphalt. Not to mention the hundreds of non-motorized subway cars vomiting from the mouth of the Mont-Royal subway station every five minutes. The neighbourhood is hidden from me like the trees in the forest. All the charm of my old Plateau is disappearing, overwhelmed by too many people, too many businesses, of too many desiring the right now.
Following in their footsteps, one can see the straight line and oblique gaze that makes up the simple path to their coveted merchandise. I, in turn, walk like a samurai, avoiding the slow or crowded passers-by; being present on my road, being just my road.
Alas, I storm against this economic storm that periodically sweeps away my tranquility. My conscience scolds me—intolerance is a weakness. The memory of Gandhi resurfaces.
A Self-Remade Man
If Socrates represents the ideal of the ancient philosopher, Gandhi could be seen as his equivalent, especially in terms of the modern democrat. They have the same authenticity. And it is in the political actions of Gandhi that validates his thought, more than long speeches.
He is a self-made man. The American expression speaks of those who succeed by the toil of their labour, usually with minimum education. Gandhi was an exception to this rule, having achieved his status as a lawyer. He succeeded in becoming a self-made man despite his education and his approach aligns itself with Jean-Paul Sartre, who declares us responsible for our lives by our omnipresent freedom of choice.
According to Gandhi, we do not live just to acquire food, clothing or shelter. On the contrary, we acquire these goods because they allow us to live better. (It seems that modern industry has forgotten this detail.) The fruits of labour relieve us of the hassles of everyday life. They allow our spirit to flourish. Attachment to wealth cauterizes our fear and sometimes inability to pursue happiness.
Gandhi, this humble sage, was convinced that the evolution of our societies would favour the voluntary reduction of our needs rather than their multiplication, and only then, could the mind devote itself to tranquility. (For the time being, we seem to be going in the opposite direction.) Gandhi tamed his mind by weaning it from the ephemeral and wearisome enjoyment of objects, i.e. non-possession. His spiritual diet consisted of suppressing all useless desires by abolishing their dictatorship. (I suggest distancing oneself from any window (focus) controlled by the industrialized drive to over-possession). This control extends to objects, food, sexuality, emotions, and language.
When I confess that I have no mayonnaise, mustard, spices, not even salt and pepper, the question arises:
“What are you eating?”
A short silence usually follows.
The exercise of non-possession consists of freeing one’s mind from the needs that encumber it, a prerequisite for obtaining a clear vision of one’s life. A less carnal thought is willing to moderate one’s ego. Gandhi learned to be happy with the bare necessities.
Gandhi learned to live with the bare necessities. His strength lay in his personality and goals, not in an impressive accumulation of wealth. He applied himself to be and not to possess. Happiness and peace of mind came from his achievements. If he had an extraordinary influence on his peers, it was because he did what everyone else could do, but did not. He did not seek to impose his moral rectitude on others but rather wanted everyone to cultivate their own. This rejection of power was the flagship of his non-possession effort.
His social involvement never aimed at the perpetuation of his ideas but at the acceptance of truth as he observed in daily life. Gandhi listened to every proposal that was submitted to him with an attitude that excluded hatred, anger, violence and lies. He reserved the right to disagree with his ideas—a resolution with serious consequences for an honest man.
In this respect, the non-possession that Gandhi practised with his ideas proved to be a guarantee of their authenticity. By providing the most favourable interpretation regarding the intentions to his opponents, he’d argue that; « we offer them an opportunity to push back their vile intentions. If they disdain our outstretched hand, they expose their wrongs to everyone.” A cowardly attitude? On the contrary. Gandhi had no difficulty in showing the courage required for non-violence. Forgiveness is more manly than punishment. ( Having once worked as a doorman at a jazz bar, this favourable but firm frame of mind which Gandhi suggests, worked miracles for me. I never hit a dysfunctional customer. ).
In case of conflict, Gandhi always appealed to the common sense and morality of his opponents. In politics, on the other hand, he would put pressure on the belligerents through long and dangerous fasts. Emotional blackmail had the desired effect only in part. Gandhi could have explained it. The actions a man takes for himself have no effect beyond himself. And, “stubbornness, he said, “is powerless to change the opinions of others, either deeply or permanently.” Gandhi was convinced that our conscience is our most implacable judge.
No « isms »
No theory, no principle, no rule, no convention had ever dominated Gandhi’s decisions or actions. The Mahatma (Gandhi) even allowed himself to attack religious principles according to common sense. He even questioned class taboos and secular practices dear to India. This would eventually get him killed.
Joining a political party, a religion or an ideological movement means isolating oneself from others. Gandhi hated anything that divides. Do not isolate to conquer, but rather unite to liberate, as Karl Marx suggests.
Back at the Ranch
The more walking I do through the horde of consumers whose attention and interest are only in what they buy, own and is on display in the showcase or on the phone, the more I force myself to become courteous. A titanic task, I confess. Patience in my house is something remade.