READING GUIDE: Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Part IV, chapters XVIII-XX, XXVI, XXIX, XXXI-XXXVI.
We often think of direct leaders as the people at the top of a pyramid; they come up with ideas and transmit them to the people below, their followers. In some respects, Gandhi was this top-down manager. But, in addition to influencing other people, he was also prepared to be influenced by them. In the reading for Wednesday, we’ll see a spectacular instance of this. What are we to make of Gandhi’s immediate conversion to the ideas of John Ruskin? As he read Ruskin, did he sit upright and say to himself, “this is the piece of the puzzle I’ve been looking for my whole life,” and decide to act on it? Or was it a bizarre and arbitrary compulsion?
The influence of Ruskin on Gandhi to found Phoenix Settlement can be seen from another perspective: that of the followers. As we’ve noted already, it was never easy to follow Gandhi. He expected obedience and sacrifice; it’s probably safe to say that he was much tougher on his friends and allies than on those who opposed him. Maybe we should take some time during class to discuss this.
Also in this selection, Gandhi himself first uses the word satyagraha—and notice how he assumes his readers already know what it is. Hmm.
More hmm. As this stage in our reading of his book, we should be tuned in to Gandhi’s unconventional way (by our standards, at any rate) of sequencing and pacing his information. Even so, we might be surprised by what Gandhi tells us after he introduces satyagraha. Should we again attempt to make connections that are not at first apparent to us?
One such connection may be fasting. Although it’s not clear at this point in our reading of the book—and, for that matter, it maybe wasn’t clear to Gandhi when he wrote it—fasting was to become an important element in Gandhi’s leadership story. What is fasting? How did Gandhi come to it? And, based on what we read for Wednesday, to what uses did he put it?