While removing one pile of paper from among several on Sunday, I found a printout of something I have posted two or three times over the years as “Gandhi’s mission statement,” from the writings of Mahatma Gandhi. I think I originally discovered it among sample mission statements in a Franklin Planner, back when I did Franklin Planners:
Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:
• I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
• I shall fear only God.
• I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
• I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
• I shall conquer untruth by truth,
• And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.
How I hear those resolutions:
I shall not fear anyone on Earth. We are alike in so many ways, created equally with certain, unalienable rights. I have no right to infringe on another’s rights, nor does anyone have that right over me. Everybody poops. Everybody has hopes and dreams. Everybody deserves respect, and there is no reason to fear anyone.
I shall fear only God. I read somewhere that the original language uses the word fear in the way we use the word awe — and I am surely in awe of the wonderful creation that is this world. I would fear God’s wrath if I did not believe in a God of Love, and if I were an atheist, I would fear what might happen if God were real.
I shall not bear ill will toward anyone. This is both self-explanatory and the hardest of Gandhi’s resolutions to follow. The world teems with people who bear ill will toward me, if not personally, then toward their perception of people who look like me, think like me, believe what I believe, or were born where I was born. Someone I believe in once said when someone strikes you, turn the other cheek so they can also strike you there, and above all love that person. Easier said than done, but I also believe a gentle answer turns away wrath, and so I strive — and struggle — to follow this.
I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. This places me on a tightrope as I try not to bear ill will while also not submitting to injustice from those I’m most likely to bear ill will toward. It is possible, I know, to refuse to submit to injustice gently and firmly and even with love toward the person committing the injustice, even as they pile injustice upon injustice for refusal to submit, for refusal to fear them — but it is a difficult path.
I shall conquer untruth with truth. People in power are persistent liars, and confronting them with truth — for example, by pointing out the inconsistency in their lies — can throw them into a rage. But people recognize the truth when they hear it, and therefore untruth can always be conquered — eventually — by speaking truth, again, gently and firmly and consistently.
And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering. Make no mistake, following Gandhi’s resolutions can lead to all sorts of persecution, pain and suffering. Mohandas Gandhi was himself murdered for being who he was, the very definition of what “all suffering” means. The funny thing is, Gandhi and his teachings have survived long after we have forgotten those against whom he struggled. That’s why his “mission statement” remains so powerful almost 75 years after his death.