I recently watched the 1982 movie “Gandhi.” What an incredible story about the power of integrity, living from ones deepest beliefs, even in the face of severe opposition and danger.
In one poignant scene, early in the movie as he is just beginning to rally his fellow Indians against the tyranny of the British Government in South Africa, Gandhi stands before a large assembly of Indians and British officers. He welcomes the audience and then states, “Let us begin by being clear about general Smut’s new law. All Indians must be finger-printed, like criminals. No marriage other than a Christian marriage is valid which makes your mothers whores and each of you bastards. A policeman passing an Indian dwelling, if it can be called that, may demand the card of any Indian. He doesn’t even have to stand at the door. He may enter.”
Outraged, a few men in the audience stand and shout. “I’ll kill the man who does that.” “We’ll kill a few officials and see what they think then.” “I’d be willing to die to oppose this law.”
Gandhi raises his hands and continues. “I praise such courage. I need such courage because in this cause I too am prepared to die. But, my friends, there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill. Whatever they do to us, we will attack no one, kill no one.
“But we will not give our finger-prints, not one of us. They will imprison us. They will fine us. They will seize our possessions. But they cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them. I am asking you to fight against their anger but not provoke it. We will not strike a blow, but in our pain we will make them see their injustice and it will hurt. All fighting hurts. But we cannot lose. They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have dead body, but not my obedience.”
He continues, “We are Hindu and Muslim, children of God, each one of us. Let us take a solemn oath that, come what may, we will not submit to this law.” Gandhi then invited all who would take this oath to stand. All stood. And so began a many year fight to gain equal rights for Indian citizens within South Africa.
Gandhi saw incredible injustice in his lifetime and stood up for justice and equality for all people, not only against the British but also against but the caste system and religious discrimination of his native India. What amazes and inspires me about his life is not only the cause for which he stood (equality) but how he conducted himself to realize that cause. He refused to return violence for violence. He carried out his mission through kindness and love. His message continues to be powerful not only because of what he believed and taught but because of his unflinching steadfastness in living by the principles he taught. Gandhi defined, by his example, what it means to live a principled life.
A principle-centered life reflects our intent to make a conscious decision about how we want to live. I like to think of principles as the “rules” of conduct that govern our behavior and interactions with others. As such, they are more important than what happens to us. In fact, by being grounded in a set of guiding-principles we learn to act rather than react. Although we certainly don’t control everything that happens to us, our principles guide us in how to respond. Ultimately, they help us find inner serenity and even fulfillment in the midst of outer turbulence.
Here is an example of a set of guiding principles, shared with me by a friend.
Above all…love! Love others, love myself, love the life I create.
See others as bigger than they see themselves.
Dream big, take risks, take action, and never give up.
Operate from a place of clear intention.
Be grateful. Live with an attitude of gratitude.
Can you see how such principles guide my friend’s actions? Can you see how they inspire her to step up to life in a more powerful way? Live from passion rather than going through the motions?
When we fail to live from clearly defined principles we fall into bad habits and develop negative character traits. Greed, blame, self-centeredness, excuse-making, telling lies, revenge, abusing others, taking the path of least resistance are examples of these habits. They’re based on laws of survival, security, self-centeredness and self-protection rather than growth and love.
I don’t believe most people consciously choose to be greedy. They back into greedy behavior almost by default. At some moment, it is convenient and results in short-term payoffs. We become greedy when we have failed to think deeply about the consequences of our conduct and what is most important to us.
So think about your life. How clear are you about your guiding-principles? Can you articulate them? How important are they to you? Are they deep enough that they can empower you to over-ride any tendencies to fall back to convenience, ego-gratification, pleasing others?
Let me encourage you to take some time to ponder and even jot down your guiding-principles. We’ll do more with this in the next few articles. But for now, start the process. Think deeply, not just about what you want but how you want to live. And share your thoughts or even some of the principles that are important to you, as a comment below, so we can learn from and support one another in this journey.