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FAQ 10: Gandhi, the Person of the 20th Century

Q

Gandhi, the person of the 20th century ?

  

A

Why should Mahatma Gandhi be considered the Person of the Century? Let me just offer a few remarks.
 
When we think about Person of the Century, most people tend to think in terms of the Greatest Person of the Century. In terms of people who have made the most impact we could consider, for example, V.I. Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong. But these are not the types of figures most people have in mind when considering a Person of the Century. Nor is such a person usually considered to be the person who acquired the most wealth, or even the person who created technology that had the greatest impact, such as Henry Ford or Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Some people might want to consider the political figure who made the greatest positive impact, such as, for example, United States President John F. Kennedy, or the person who achieved great international fame and popularity, such as, for example, Princess Diana.

One could also consider great artists or writers or scientists – the list goes on. But generally, most people will want to choose the human being who was the greatest human being or whose achievements are considered the greatest. Into such a category a personality like Mother Teresa would fall; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also. Then there is Mahatma Gandhi, whose contribution to humanity during the 20th century, I would respectfully argue, outweighs that of Dr. King and Mother Teresa, as truly great as both were. (Of course, tragically, Dr. King was assassinated at a young age).

For almost five decades of the 20th century Gandhi fought the greatest battles a human being can fight – for freedom, for ones country, and for individuals, that is, political freedom and freedom from oppression.

He fought for human equality, for human dignity, for self-respect, for freedom from exploitation, injustice and violence. He fought to uphold what he regarded as the Truth that was God. He himself did it, he led millions of others in doing it, and he showed it could be done successfully. Most importantly, he showed it was possible to use nonviolence rather than violence. He taught that in all struggles where one is fighting against tyranny, ones weapon should be love, or nonviolence. He taught that it was possible to have peace on earth, while we settled our differences nonviolently. His struggle was the greatest struggle of all, to realize God, on this earth, among the people with whom God had cast him.

Gandhi’s life had such an impact, that impact shows little sign of abating. He has influenced and inspired the lives of so many people, particularly ordinary people. But even the great figures of today – the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and others – declare themselves to have been profoundly influenced by Gandhi, and look up to him. Gandhi’s Spirit has helped give rise to so many decolonization, environmental, social and political movements over the last fifty years.

In every country where there has been a peaceful revolution, including the Philippines, Gandhi’s spirit has been present. Today around the world vast numbers of people are interested in his life and teachings, which cover virtually every aspect of human existence. Unlike Mother Teresa, for example, Gandhi left an all-encompassing religious, moral, political and social philosophy. It is to be found in his writings which are published in dozens of volumes. (Gandhi is also popularly regarded as the most written-about figure in history, except Jesus Christ. There are more than 10,000 works about his life and philosophy, and more are published every year).

Even in 1999 people see that there is something in Gandhi’s life that is a clue to a better life and world. This is because Gandhi searched for the Truth, and that Truth is as relevant today as ever. It is not for nothing that many wise people have compared Gandhi’s life to that of Jesus Christ and Buddha. Perhaps the best argument of all for considering Gandhi to be Person of the Centuries that at the end of the 20th century, 50 years after he was martyred (in January 1948), it is quite clear that his positive influence is going to live on into the 21st century and probably beyond.

I hope this answer is of some help to you. By the way, you may be aware of "TIME" magazine’s current poll on Person of the Century. (You can see it at http://www.mkgandhi.servodaya-org .) In that, Gandhi is currently the top figure who lived in this century and who could be seriously considered for such an honor.

You also asked about any negative remarks towards Gandhi being considered the Person of the Century. Personally I have not come across anything specifically negative about Gandhi’s right to this title. Other people may assess the criteria differently or simply feel that someone else is more deserving. As a Gandhi I will not take issue with anyone over this. Gandhi himself would not have cared for such honors!

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