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Gandhi And The Chocolate Factory

October 17, 2010

There are people we admire, maybe even aspire to be like. Then there are those we actually resemble, in action and deed anyway. I’d like to be like Gandhi. I am much more like Willy Wonka.  I’m wondering if becoming Gandhi-like is a reasonable goal, perhaps some sort of hybrid is more reasonable. So I’m gonna start with Willy, and mix in some Gandhi and see what happens.

The thing I love most about Gandhi is  his commitment to truth. Just flat-out honesty at all costs. To me, this seems as powerful as the non-violence, and actually forces you to look at violence in a slightly different way.

What if a lie, in and of itself, can be an act of violence?

Typically, we think of violence as a way to oppress or repress someone in order to gain something at their expense. Right? Lies can do that. Lying about someone can deny them opportunity. Lying about a group of people can cause others to isolate and / or harm them. Lying to someone about a choice they have may restrict their freedom to choose. In those ways, a lie is a way to restrict or oppress someone.

Along the same lines, lies and lying become shackles in and of themselves, because the fear of being caught and “branded” as a liar will cause people to hide, therefore restricting the size and scope of their own possibilities. Even if they are choosing to do it to themselves, the lie is still oppressing them.

Another way to define a violent act is as an act that causes someone else to put their defenses up. In this way, it’s easy to see how lies become quite violent indeed. If someone feels pain because they are being lied about, they are likely to want to explain themselves, break free from the shackles of the lie. They will likely feel the need to expend energy defending themselves. That’s a pretty sure sign that simple words have become a form of violence.

Yes. Lies restrict movement, and are often used to control and manipulate other people.

I’ve been working on the idea of all-truth-all-the-time, and it’s surprisingly hard, mostly because other people may have a different “truth” that has to be allowed to coexist. It’s also scary because it will almost certainly result in the loss of something  – people, plans, ideas previously held on to as “truths.” I’ve long been hyper-honest about things I see as my flaws, fears and weaknesses, because it allows real trust. Love me for who I am, or don’t.

But when it comes to admitting that I have – or anyone else has –  done something that many others will see as wrong, that’s a lot harder. There are more direct consequences, and they can’t really be attributed to anything other than things that I CHOSE TO DO. And in many cases, they are not things that I did alone, so being honest about them “outs” other people as well, and creates a ripple effect in their lives.

My desire – whether altruistic or fearing the repercussions – to not hurt other people leaves me carrying around lies that I don’t want to. More than that, I find myself assuming the role of protector of other people. As if it is my job to make sure that other people don’t suffer as a result of their own actions. That’s not my job.

And, maybe by holding the shackles made of lies in place, I am doing more to imprison people than protect them. (Wasn’t there a false element of “protection” in our Japanese internment camps too?)

So yes, I’m inching ever closer to understanding how Gandhi’s approach to honesty and pacifism are inherently intertwined. It’s why, the whole time I dated my last boyfriend, who was married, I was honest with the people in my life about what I believed was his marital status – I believed he was separated the whole time, which turned out not to be true. It’s why I’m now being more vocal about what the truth was. I was hurt by the lies, made decisions that impacted other people negatively as a result of the lies, and carrying them around is too hard, and an unfair burden to me. He can clean up his own mess.

And that’s part of how I know I’m no Gandhi. (One of many ways!) There is a part of me that will feel good knowing that he might be hurt by the weight of his lies as much as I was.

But I say that with an impish grin, because I do believe, through it all, that people are inherently good, (even him) and will rise to the occasion. I feel like I’m on this constant quest for goodness and truth and merriment and joy and fun. And yes, I’m more than a little mischievous. I am pure Willy Wonka, and I can’t quite reconcile that with Gandhi, even though the two seem very similar to me.

Willy Wonka was just looking for someone to trust with his dreams. He was looking for that one pure soul who, even when he made a mistake, would admit it and tell the truth. Who’s spirit was generous and not afraid. Who was willing to believe ridiculously magical things and share them. That’s not so different from Gandhi, really.

But here’s the thing. If Gandhi were to meet Vercua Salt, he wouldn’t call her names and send her down an egg chute to be cracked and scrambled. Gandhi wouldn’t particulate Mike TeeVee, he wouldn’t scare the living daylights out of people for fun. Willy Wonka would. And I might. Obviously, there was an aspect of vengefulness in Gandhi’s determination to destroy British Rule in India, and the Salt March was nothing if not first-rate showmanship with a serious measure of “I’ll show you, asshole.” But somehow, it didn’t seem like he was taking personal pleasure from it. You know Willy Wonka would have, and I’m pretty sure I would have.

Then again, Gandhi was on a full on journey to rid himself of desire and fleshly pleasures. I am on a full on journey to acquire more fleshly pleasures. And realistically, Gandhi and Wonka are pretty extreme ends of the human spectrum. I’m content to blossom in the middle, with the best of both of them.

I’m okay with the parts of me that are a little dramatic, something shy of logical, indulgent of both fantasies and senses (and sensual fantasies!) I’m okay with wanting to have fun for fun’s sake, and being a little mischievous if it helps me nudge others into a world of playful honesty free of violence (and makes me feel a little better.) I’m not sure I’ll ever make it to the peaceful pacifism that most of us think of when we think of Gandhi. But I am damned sure that I can get better about admitting the things I do wrong. And I can get more fearless. And I can have more fun. And I can remember that I am an example, not an idea. A work in progress, not masterpiece.

And I can definitely create a magical life filled with delicious fun in many forms, and share it with whoever I want to and no one I don’t.

Now, I need to go design an egg-chute.

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