Mohandas K. Gandhi was born Oct. 2, 1869. As it has in past years, the Gandhi Alliance for Peace will mark the occasion with a birthday celebration Sunday at 3 p.m. in Liberty Park. The purpose of the Gandhi Alliance includes encouraging people to reflect on the life and meaning of Mahatma Gandhi.
Two days before this year’s celebration, Utahns also heard from another person whose experience is worth remembering.
Anita Hill was the guest speaker at the annual YWCA Leader Luncheon Friday. As many will remember, Hill was a witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the fall of 1991 when the committee was considering the nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. Hill had worked under Judge Thomas but had left because of recurring extremely unpleasant experiences with him when he made inappropriate sexually-tinged comments. She believed it was her responsibility as an American citizen to inform the Senate committee of these behaviors so they could investigate. Was a man who made these kinds of uninvited statements a good choice for the Supreme Court? Her initial desire was to remain anonymous. But her letter to the committee was leaked, and so she appeared at the hearing.
Gandhi’s passion—perhaps his greatest passion — was for truth. My sense of Gandhi is that his passion for truth nurtured his commitment to nonviolence. If we kill someone, then how can we be open to that person’s truth? And doesn’t everyone have some piece of the truth of life?
My favorite metaphor on truth is an Indian village saying which I associate with Gandhi. We are all blind men touching an elephant; each of us thinks we have the truth. One thinks he is feeling a tree. Another says it is a serpent. And so on. We need each other to help us discover the truth; to help each other to understand more of the world; to learn how we affect one another; to solve problems that we can’t solve alone.
As I reflect on the 1991 hearing, I do not believe that the Senate Judiciary Committee shared this commitment to truth. Instead I’m afraid a number of other dynamics entered the picture. And the one that most concerns me now is what is often happening in both the Senate and the House of Representatives: instead of seeking the truth, our elected leaders time and again seek to win. As soon as winning becomes most important, then we will want to not have all the truth come out. Instead we want to have only those pieces of the truth that seem to support winning to get aired. And we all lose because of this.
In Hill’s book, "Speaking Truth to Power" she closely examines the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Hill ends her book with a request that the members of the committee apologize to her parents for the ordeal her whole family endured because of her testimony. Her parents have since died. But while certainly Hill and her immediate family suffered by the treatment of the senators, our entire country also suffered by that treatment. We continue to suffer when the objective of winning becomes more important than seeking the truth.
My hope is that on Oct. 2, Gandhi’s Birthday, we will consider and reflect on the importance of truth in our political life and how to better encourage our elected leaders to make winning secondary to truth.
Deb Sawyer is president and founder of the Gandhi Alliance for Peace.
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