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Chance Thoughts
by Sue Chance, M.D.
January 1996

Gandhi and Einstein

I'm going to South Africa this month as part of the Citizen Ambassador Program, started by President Eisenhower. In my reading preparatory to that trip, I was reminded that Mahatma Gandhi got his philosophical start there. The injustices he observed in that culture led him to formulate ideas he applied to his own culture and those ideas, of course, were appropriated by no less a luminary than Martin Luther King, Jr. in our culture. Chances are, they will be appropriated again and again. At least, one hopes so.

Something prompted me to pull out a book titled Ideas and Opinions, taken from the various writings and speeches of Albert Einstein. Americans have the funny notion that someone speaks with an accent and has a disposition one might refer to as "shy" is inarticulate. Thus, we have a mistaken impression of the man. We only have to read a little of Einstein's writing to realize that his genius extended way past physics and mathematics into the realm of the literary.

Here are his remarks on the occasion of Gandhi's seventieth birthday in 1939, as published in Out of My Later Years (New York: Philosophical Library, 1950): "A leader of his people, unsupported by any outward authority: a politician whose success rests not upon craft nor the mastery of technical devices, but simply on the convincing power of his personality a victorious fighter who has always scorned the use of force, a man of wisdom and humility, armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the uplifting of his people and the betterment of their lot, a man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at all times risen superior.

"Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

Mind you, this was before India was granted her independence from Britain; during the darkest days of contemporary European history. Einstein's political views as a pacifist and a Zionist had pitted him against conservatives in Germany, and they had branded him a traitor and a defeatist prior to his emigration in 1933. He came to accept the necessity of the use of arms against Hitler & Co., but he never changed in the fundamentals, as evidenced by his objections to the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the 1950s.

It's fair to say that Einstein wouldn't have generated this paean of praise unless he had the same values as Gandhi. Whether he thought he possessed the same qualities (though it's implicit he didn't think he possessed them to the same extent), we can be sure they were the qualities he thought desirable.

My conclusion? That we would be wise to give serious thought to those whom we admire. Looking for the golden properties they possess(ed) can provide us a blueprint for developing those same properties in ourselves.