For a country that has experienced years of oppression, like Romania, freedom is not taken for granted.
‘What is freedom?’ probed one student after Rajmohan Gandhi’s address at a university in Baia Mare, a northern Romanian city of 130,000 that was once a major mining centre. Prof Gandhi replied that ‘if the state tells me what to do, I say I will resist. But if my conscience asks me not to do something, I want to obey it. Then I find I have inner freedom.’
Among the audience were participants in the Club for Young Leaders, a new IofC initiative, based in Baia Mare, to encourage the style and integrity of leadership that Prof Gandhi alluded to in his remarks. The club is coordinated by Diana Damsa, who has worked with Initiatives of Change across the globe and is now bringing her experience to bear in exploring responses to the challenges her native Romania faces. With 16 in the current batch, the Club aims to ground leaders in inner freedom, at the same time identifying concrete initiatives that can be tackled together in the broader community.
For them, and his university audience, Gandhi highlighted four key points;
- ‘If you’re planning a strategy for a community or country, leave absolutely no-one out;
- ‘Have the courage to speak the truth to your own side;
- ‘Think a lot but also leave room for inspiration;
- ‘If you find hatred around you, fight it. If people are hating each other, reconcile them. If someone is hating you, forgive him.’
Gandhi was in Romania this past week as part of his continuing ‘Voyage of Dialogue and Discovery’ through 14 countries. His stay in Romania coincided with the biannual Global Consultation of Initiatives of Change, of which Gandhi is currently President. The intensive discussions among the 42 representatives of IofC teams from over 20 countries were complemented by three public lectures where Prof Gandhi was invited to speak.
The visit to Baia Mare began with a public meeting in city’s main library on the relevance of Gandhian ethics in today’s world. The Club of Young Leaders received the Voyage team and others in the party with generous hospitality.
The following day, Sunday 18 April, 170 people crowded into the Casa Matei in centre of the city of Cluj to hear Prof Gandhi’s thoughts on the role of the ‘ordinary’ person in making a difference in the world. Over the course of a two-hour program, he spent almost an hour fielding questions from a largely young audience. As well as emphasising once again the attitude of making the other person great, and the power of following deep convictions, he also explored the role of wounded memories in the trust-building process. He talked of ‘genuine listening’ to the other’s remembering and interpretation of history, and the importance of transforming memories from ‘wounding weapons to healing source.’ There is an important distinction, he said, between expressions designed to hurt and those intending to heal.
Mahatma Gandhi, when once asked what he thought of western civilization, famously replied that he thought ‘it would be a good idea’. Recalling this quote, one person asked Prof Gandhi the same question. He was equivocal in his response, but did identify a concern with the seemingly prevalent inclination to ‘say yes to any desire we have’. This western disposition obliquely contrasts with the trait he identified as the Mahatma’s secret in uniting India – ‘the people of India became aware of his selfless commitment.’
Asked very simply, ‘How are you?’, Gandhi expressed gratitude that he was not somewhere more affected by the ash cloud. How things change – 36 hours later, unable to fly, he would be launching out with six others on a 17 hour bus ride from Cluj to Kiev, in order to arrive in time for the opening of the program there. The journey continues.