I don’t know if any of you have ever wondered what kind of schoolwork I do, but this is a sample of the kind of essays I write for the class I’m taking on Leadership. This week’s topic was a speech by Gandhi given when he was being tried for his actions of inciting civil disobedience.
“But I hold it a virtue to be disaffected towards a government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system…I consider it to be a sin to have affection for the system. And it has been a precious privilege for me to be able to write what I have in the various articles tendered against me.”–Gandhi
Why would Gandhi make a plea of being guilty? Because he considered it a sin to obey the law of the land in this instance. He adhered to this basic idea: If a government ever tells you to do something it would be wrong fro you to do as a citizen, then it is wrong, therefore you should not obey it.
I’ve read this idea in books and it makes sense to me because it’s not hard to see that the government functions like a person, in a sense. Civilization starts with one man making an agreement or partnership with another person. Hence the idea of citizen government: The kind of government run by citizens, that must be held to the same standard as an individual. As a citizen you should not steal from; invade the privacy of; kill; maim; or in any way injure your neighbor. You should act with justice and mercy in doling out punishment to your children, your employees, or anyone under you; and never punish them for something they did not do, or more than fits the crime. So if the government condones or commands the doing of any of these things, it is in the wrong, and good people should not follow it.
Yet this does not draw the line clear enough. People have different ideas about what is right and wrong, our own country is pretty divided over it. I believe there is only one Right System of Values, though the living out of it may vary, and clearly, if two sides have completely different values, someone has missed the mark.
How can we know who is right? This is where the need for religion comes in. Yes, I mean it is a need. Gandhi himself believed religion is a part of politics, unquestionably. He believed that anyone who does not think this does not understand what religion is. I think what he meant was that religion shapes your world view. Your world view will certainly shape your political views. Your world view is not what you profess but what you truly live by; and the problem with modern politics is that we listen only to what people profess and do not examine what they’ve actually done. Gandhi’s whole life was an example of his world view and that was why people listened to him; and why he was so unashamed to state that he was guilty of the crimes they accused him of. Because, by his religion, they were not really crimes.
When we have a religion to go by, knowing what way to direct our politics becomes simpler. We have a right practice and a wrong practice, (any religion that does not have these is not worth believing in, it requires no effort.) It is best when the majority can agree about the right thing, but when the majority is in the wrong and hurting the minority, or vice versa, it is the duty of the other to stand up for themselves and change things. (As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently put in the Declaration of Independence.) Whether they use violence or nonviolence to do this depends on the people and on the situation, the important thing is for them to know that they have the ability and the right to do it.