Cook: Meeting Gandhi in the dark

Cook: Meeting Gandhi in the dark

September 16th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Gandhi's Chattanooga Visit


• 5:30 p.m.: Westside visit at Renaissance Community Garden.


• 10:30 a.m.: ReCreate Cafe, Salvation Army, 800 McCallie Ave.

• 11:30 a.m.: Lunch and tour of Chattanooga Community Kitchen, 727 E. 11th St.

• 6 p.m.: Presentation at City Council meeting, 1000 Lindsay St.


• 5 p.m.: Unveiling of a mural, "A Season for Nonviolence," at Brainerd Recreation Center, 1010 N. Moore Road.

• 6 p.m.: Celebration, festivities sponsored by Chattanooga India Association, Chattanooga Hindu temple, 7706 Colemere Drive.


• 8 a.m.-noon: Connecting the Dots Summit where Gandhi will be keynote speaker, at Bessie Smith Hall, 200 East M.L.King Blvd. (reservations required; 425-7826).

• 3:15 p.m.: Walking tour of Brainerd Mission, 5600 Brainerd Road.

• 4:15 p.m.: Sitar music by Joe Ridolfo, Eastgate Senior Activity Center at Eastgate Town Center, 5600 Brainerd Road.

• 5 p.m.: Eastgate Library blessing, Gandhi message of "A Season of Nonviolence," Eastgate Town Center stage with music by T-Ran Gilbert and Sera Hill.

More information: Contact Melissa Turner at

If I really wanted to be dramatic about it, I'd ask you to shut off your lights while reading this column. Your breaker box, too. By the end of the column, I'll explain why.

This week, Gandhi's grandson comes to Chattanooga. Invited by Missy Crutchfield and the Department of Education, Arts and Culture, Dr. Arun Gandhi is both the biological and philosophical descendant of Gandhi, a man historians consider the most influential figure of the 20th century.

"Gandhi was the spokesman for the conscience of mankind,'' eulogized U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall in 1948.

Gandhi's grandson, who founded the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence (currently in New York), will spend the week here. I wish he would stay for years. Organizers say he'll help Chattanooga move "toward a season for nonviolence.''

Tricky word, nonviolence. It's defined by what it's not. Like nonday (night) or nongirl (boy) or nonhappiness (being an Auburn fan).

It can take years -- or lifetimes -- to fully understand Gandhi and the ground he walked. I think the best place to start is his body.

Gandhi was a small man. About as big as a middle schooler. Size matters in this world of ours, and Gandhi's smallness is part of his message: Strength is not about the body.

But his body went through the grinder: beaten, arrested, starved, arrested, struck, kicked, arrested. He fasted -- at age 72 -- for three weeks. During his life, he spent a total of six years in jail. Arrested, for following his conscience.

In these small sentences, we find his strength. Not in his body. But in his spirit, where he clung to one thing: truth.

For Gandhi, truth was easy, more real than gravity (or gravy) and best defined by behavior. To demonstrate his understanding of truth, Gandhi refused to participate in violence.

Violence, which always tears down, is a distortion of truth. Gandhi -- who was never passive -- fought, more wily than most. But he never fought suffering by causing more. He would receive blows but never strike back in return.

"For a nonviolent person, the whole world is one family,'' Gandhi said.

This sounds hokey-pokey, hippie-dippy. But Gandhi is not talking about emotion. He is talking about perspective, like when your old and worn eyes suddenly receive new glasses and, lo and behold, you see more clearly than ever.

You and me. All of life. Everything everywhere. Part of God, part of each other.

Violence never achieves this. Violence separates, damages and disfigures. But nonviolence restores, reconciles and rehabilitates.

"It is the acid test of nonviolence that in a nonviolent conflict there is no rancor left behind and, in the end, the enemies are converted into friends,'' he said.

This work requires spirit and courage only slightly smaller than South Dakota. But Gandhi always said that whatever he did, anyone else could, as well.

Which is simply fabulous news. Because my hunch is that we're really starving for some answers like this around here.

This brings us back to your breaker box ... and Thomas Edison. The American experimenter is credited with inventing the incandescent lightbulb. But he didn't invent electricity. It was already there. He just found it, pulling it off stage and into the spotlight in ways no one else had.

This is what Gandhi did for nonviolence.

Imagine if our understanding of electricity stopped with Edison and his single lightbulb.

Now imagine what happens when we understand and use nonviolence as fully as we do electricity.