Peter Rühe

Collage of photographs of Peter Rühe

The Need of Gandhi in a Changing World

by Peter Rühe


Why do we live in a changing world? One aspect that remains unchanged is human nature: historically, we have been driven by emotions such as hate, attachment, compassion, love, and lust. Throughout history, men have sought dominion over others, leading to countless battles and wars. The weaponry of the past was relatively simple, including axes, fists, knives, spears, and eventually guns, rifles, and bombs. Today's distinction lies in the formidable power of our nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, which possess a destructive capacity beyond our wildest imaginations. Another constant over the centuries is humanity's inclination to hunt animals and cut down trees, coupled with a propensity for error. However, the contemporary difference is that our mistakes have become irreversible:

- Numerous animal species have been irrevocably eradicated from Mother Earth;

- Extensive deforestation in regions like the Himalayas and the Amazon rainforests contributes to global climate change;

- The general pollution of our environment, particularly nuclear contamination as well as air and water pollution, poses health risks of unprecedented scale.


Increased Pressure on Resources

What distinguishes the present from past decades? Historically, 20% of the world's population utilized 80% of its energy resources. This dynamic has shifted due to two primary factors: energy conservation initiatives in the Western world and significant price increases have resulted in reduced consumption growth in both private households and industries. A movement towards simpler living is evident, with individuals opting for bicycles over cars, sharing living spaces, and engaging in organic farming. These choices contribute to active environmental protection, human rights advocacy, opposition to military service (conscientious objection), and alternative educational programs, such as free schools.


In modern times, many in the Western world adopt Gandhian principles, perhaps without full awareness. Over thirty institutions outside India are named after Gandhi, promoting his life's work and his commitment to nonviolence. Hundreds of organizations worldwide operate in the spirit of Gandhi, striving for a more humane, livable, and peaceful existence.


Meanwhile, the aforementioned 80% of the global population from developing nations like India and Indonesia, as well as rising superpowers such as China with its swift economic advancement, have rapidly embraced consumerism—a trend once dominant in industrialized nations.


Some statistics highlight this shift:

- India maintains the world's second-largest active military force and is a significant spender on military endeavors.

- In 2010, China became the planet's top energy consumer.

- Between 2011 and 2013, China's cement usage surpassed that of the U.S. for the entire 20th century.

- China holds global market shares of 50% in steel and aluminum production and 30% in car manufacturing.


 While renewable energy sources are expanding, alongside advancements in electric mobility and worldwide energy-saving measures, they are unlikely to keep pace with the soaring energy demands.


A necessary reassessment of our lifestyles

The general situation can be encapsulated through the words of the esteemed African American social reformer and advocate for human rights and social justice, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His own resolve and motivation were greatly bolstered by studying the life and works of Gandhi. He said: "There is no choice between violence or nonviolence. The only choice we have is between nonviolence and perish." The current times call for a shift towards a nonviolent and peaceful existence, in harmony with humanity, nature, and the divine. Globally, an increasing number of individuals and organizations are embracing the ethos of Gandhi, enacting his constructive program for human rights, environmental protection, decentralized industries, and a life enriched by serving the impoverished within their nations. Despite the prevailing dominance of destructive forces such as centralized industries and multinational corporations, there is a significant and expanding resistance to consumerism and the devastation of Mother Earth. This movement is inspired by Gandhian principles.


In India, as well as in other regions, the number of civil rights movements and social action groups advocating for minority rights and the rights of the impoverished is on the rise, drawing inspiration from Gandhi's principles. While the spinning wheel once stood as Gandhi's emblem for economic autonomy, today's symbols of liberty and advancement in India are cars, mobile phones, and computers. Nevertheless, these symbols of luxury and consumerism remain accessible to only a select few. Concurrently, the vast majority, particularly those in rural areas, are increasingly burdened by commercialization and intensifying competition, which pushes them deeper into poverty. To combat the prevailing neo-liberal economic trend, a resurgence of Gandhi's philosophies is imperative.


A reevaluation of our lifestyles is essential globally, adhering to the fundamental tenets of simplicity, contentment, sustainability, and justice that were advocated and exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi. Examining Gandhi's impact on human rights movements across the world reveals that his teachings remain profoundly pertinent today and have been effectively adopted in various contexts.


The Influence of Gandhi

Recognizing the number of prominent figures of the 20th century who regard themselves as disciples of Gandhi, it becomes evident that his humanistic approach to nonviolence and his xenophilic ideology — which focuses not on the adversary being opposed but on their beliefs — has imprinted on humanity in an unparalleled manner. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, among others, have delved into Gandhi's teachings and incorporated his principles in their pursuit of a better world. His spiritual legacy endures not solely for this reason.


The international art and media landscape powerfully reaffirms Gandhi's relevance. There are outstanding exhibitions detailing Gandhi's life and legacy, including an opera, multiple theatre productions, and musicals, as well as a plethora of films and documentaries for both cinema and television. With an ever-growing number of publications—now exceeding 10,000 books in various languages—Gandhi's presence in literature remains robust. The internet has played a significant role in keeping Gandhi's memory alive among the public; however, it does not always portray him realistically or fairly.


Gandhi believed that India's political freedom stemmed from the personal freedom (swaraj) of its citizens, which is rooted in the relentless pursuit of truth. The world can improve through the practice of fraternal love and the quest for truth by every individual. It is imperative that everyone starts this practice earnestly with oneself, embarking on one's own journey of truth exploration, here and now, unceasingly and universally.


“The world of tomorrow will be, must be, a society based on non-violence. That is the first law; out of it all other blessings will flow. It may seem a distant goal, an impractical Utopia. But it is not in the least unobtainable, since it can be worked for here and now. An individual can adopt the way of life of the future – the non-violent way – without having to wait for others to do so. And if an individual can do it, cannot whole groups of individuals? Whole nations? Men often hesitate to make a beginning because they feel that the objective cannot be achieved in its entirety. This attitude of mind is precisely our greatest obstacle to progress – an obstacle that each man, if he only will it, can clear away.”


M K Gandhi, Harijan, 10 February 1946


Therefore, Gandhi's thoughts hold significant relevance in our evolving world, and a comprehensive study of his life and work—reflecting his principle 'My life is my message'—is more crucial than ever. Those who embrace the ideals Gandhi represented—both intelligently and in practice—are not mere relics of 'the good old days'; they are the pioneers of future society.