“You are not ready for independence. If we were to grant it, you would make so many mistakes.”
This is the response Mahatma Gandhi received from the ruling British as he petitioned and advocated for the freedom of India.
With deep thought and gravity, Gandhi responded,
“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
Mahatma Gandhi is a name synonymous with the peaceful, nonviolent fight for justice and freedom. A fight that is waged with love, compassion, and kindness – the values of heartivism.
To many he was a larger-than-life figure, a saint, and the champion of India’s freedom. Mahatma, the honorific title, itself means ‘great soul.’
However, as great as one can be, no one is free from critics and shortcomings – to err is human after all.
During his lifetime and long after his death, Gandhi has been mired in controversy. In fact, that has been the case from the beginning of his life of activism in South Africa.
Gandhi has been called a misogynist and a racist. He was accused of collaborating and siding with the foreign-ruling British and he was blamed for the partition of India. Hindus felt that he favored the Muslims; the Muslims along with others called him a Hindu nationalist.
With all that said, how is he Mahatma – a great soul?
There’s a more important question that we should ask – to be great, do you have to be perfect?
If Gandhi really was a saint who fell from the heavens, pure in every word, action and deed, a person who made no mistakes and had no shortcomings, I would not find him to be as compelling of a figure.
In my estimation, real greatness is found when we are imperfect and flawed. Despite the lower aspects of ourselves, the greatness is in the striving; the continual work we do on ourselves to learn, grow and be better.
Gandhi serves as an inspiration to me precisely because he wasn’t perfect. He was human and it was this humanness that made him not just relatable, but also remarkable.
If the price to pay for goodness was perfection the world would be a lost cause. Who among us is perfect? Who is clean and unmarked in the journey of life?
The greatest legacy of the Mahatma is simple and often overlooked – despite our messiness, there is a Mahatma, a great soul, in all of us.
Our job is to uncover it not by being perfect, but by being great even though we are imperfect.