Mohandas Gandhi was many things to many people: friend, enemy, inspiration, irritation, father, brother, philosopher, prisoner — to name a few. But perhaps more than anything, he was a student of his own behavior. Extraordinarily aware of himself, Gandhi spent his life self-reflecting, observing and ultimately summarizing lessons learned in his aptly named autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth.” Every thought and action was scrutinized for intent, every breath an opportunity to learn something more about himself and move closer and closer to complete honesty in the mirror.
In that respect, Gandhi’s brilliance was not as a leader, nor politician or public speaker. In fact, he was admittedly a man of very little confidence — what he once referred to as his, “Constitutional shyness” (Gandhi, 1957). And he certainly was not some hero with an impenetrable moral compass — as evident in his own words, “I know that it is the evil passions within that keep me so far from Him, and yet I cannot get away from them” (Gandhi, 1957). Instead, what made Gandhi one of the most transformational figures in modern history was his insight into human behavior achieved through powerful self-reflection.
Once one finds truth in the mirror, seeing the surrounding world in absolute terms becomes easier. What fundamental emotion is the underpinning for cheating? Well, cheaters resort to deceit ultimately out of self-doubt. What motivates an excessive use of force? Well, aggression comes from a deep-seated feeling of weakness and vulnerability. What say you for something such as protectionism? Well, illogical grasping for familiarity signals feeling profoundly out of control. And what about hatred? Simply, it is easier to project our negativity toward others than admit our own self-loathing.
Gandhi did not waste time complaining the words and actions of others, he preferred building wisdom and capacity by working on himself. He knew that self-reflection affords priceless knowledge; if you want to overcome the omnipotent British who colonized India during the first half of the 19th Century, you must first look within. Therein, his life was remarkable not for his worldly accomplishments, popularity, or successful application of civil disobedience, but for his great introspection driven by a shrewd hunger for behavioral intelligence. And if he were alive today, rather than criticize his president or ruminate on his own problems, Gandhi would search for behavioral understanding in the only place that ever yields answers — the mirror.
Gandhi, M. K. (1957). An Autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press.