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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Gandhi's wisdom

by Mike Masterson | September 12, 2021 at 2:14 a.m.

The late Indian Hindu leader and political figure Mahatma Gandhi, assassinated by a religious zealot during a prayer meeting in 1948, speaks to our nation today through his admonition penned in 1925, "Seven Dangers of Human Virtue."

Without such virtues, he said, the fabric of a society shreds a strand at a time until nothing remains. "As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world--that is the myth of the atomic age--as in being able to remake ourselves," he said.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a world-renowned Indian attorney, anti-colonial nationalist and a political ethicist who used nonviolent resistance in his successful campaign for India's independence from British rule, inspiring movements for civil rights and freedom worldwide.

According to Gandhi, here are the potential dangers of so-called "withouts" awaiting those who choose to ignore or knowingly violate them:

"Wealth without work" often ruins a person (I'd also argue a nation). How many Americans today are drawing government welfare checks in lieu of answering endless help-wanted signs to fill jobs that would enable them to earn wealth along with a sense of purpose? Answer: Millions and millions.

One example I've read were the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune who endured tragedy after tragedy, even though the grandchildren and great-grandchildren never had to work, receiving everything without earning it.

"Pleasure without conscience." There are plenty of examples today of people pleasuring their wants without conscience in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and across the nation. It's also good to remember Dionysus, god of wine and its mind-numbing effects, was closely associated with Greek tragedy for a reason.

"Knowledge without character." How many intelligent people do you know who aren't pleasant to be around? A gaping hole clearly exists in the hearts of many who fancy themselves as superior intellectuals yet have no sense of integrity, character or empathy for others. This tells me there can be great benefits in working to create and enhance a sense of character that places the interests of others on an equal basis with your own.

"Business without morality." Consuming with no thought given to why, looks, in the rich, like acquiring bigger and bigger "whatevers." The tragedy lies in that many middle-class people will die surrounded by useless stuff, some wading so deeply into the psychosis of commerce (especially with Amazon at the door every other day) that they become hoarders.

"Science without humanity." Science for fame, power or corporate or political interests can be considered evil, as we've seen on theater screens. The Tuskegee Study, wherein Black men infected with syphilis were studied for 40 years, is the perfect example of science trumping humanity. The best information was found by autopsy, which meant the study participants were purposefully denied medical care. I'm also reminded of the Nazi experiments on prisoners in the concentration camps and the way the ongoing covid pandemic was created and mishandled.

"Religion without sacrifice." I suppose that would mean the wealthy have God's blessings while the poor folks (worker bees) must be cursed, at least according to Prosperity Gospel evangelists. Walking the walk of one's faith always requires selflessness and sacrifice.

"Politics without principle." This is best illustrated by the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli, who believed "Politics have no relation to morals." That's one man's twisted views, although we're seeing that purely selfish approach in spades today. With power-hungry political parties doing whatever necessary to advance their insatiable interests above those of an entire nation, the once-scorned Machiavellianism has indeed shaped the modern political approach. President and writer John Quincy Adams advised us to "Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost."

Being a virtuous person of character and integrity isn't easy nowadays, especially in public office. Yet an honorable and respectable human being elected to serve the people (as opposed to slavish party devotion) benefits everyone.

Shakespeare seems to have put an exclamation point on Gandhi's seven observations when he wrote: "This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Thanks to Bob Taylor for calling Gandhi's messages to my attention.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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