Gandhi Explains Why Restraint Was His Greatest Asset

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Excerpt from “Quiet” | Chapter: “Soft Power“:

In the West, passivity is a transgression. To be “passive,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means to be “acted upon by an external agency.” It also means to be “submissive.” Gandhi himself ultimately rejected the phrase “passive resistance,” which he associated with weakness, preferring satyagraha, the term he coined to mean “firmness in pursuit of truth.”

But as the word satyagraha implies, Gandhi’s passivity was not weakness at all. It meant focusing on an ultimate goal and refusing to divert energy to unnecessary skirmishes along the way. Restraint, Gandhi believed, was one of his greatest assets. And it was born of his shyness:

“I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. A thoughtless word hardly ever escaped my tongue or pen. Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. We find so many people impatient to talk. All this talking can hardly be said to be of any benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.”

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5 Comments

  1. julie nelson on 30.01.2014 at 12:31 (Reply)

    It strikes me that the root of the word “passive” could be illuminating as well. From late Middle English, ‘(exposed to) suffering, acted on by an external agency’): from Latin passivus, from pass- ‘suffered,’ from the verb pati. Passive as a word expands and unfolds when it is re-connected to the connotation “the ability to tolerate suffering,” which is connected to both ” passion” and “compassion” — to suffer with. Far from being a limp, paralyzed posture, being “passive” implies having the inner strength to suffer the harmful actions of others without becoming knee-jerk reactive in response. As you say, remaining steadfastly focused on his goals because he had the ability to “suffer fools” around him.

  2. Chris Martell on 01.02.2014 at 19:12 (Reply)

    Awesome reflection, thank you Susan Cain!

    Reminds me so much of when I hear many people who do not understand deeper human behavior capacities say to others, “Stop being so sensitive, feeling and emotional…” As if being sensitive and having feelings is a weakness, which it is errantly perceived in a world that applauds harsh desensitized exhibitionism and external aggression. Some do get it when they are told that being sensitive and having feelings is NOT a weakness, but believing that they are is a dysfunctional illogical socialized perception.

    Interesting to observe social functioning in a world that is stuck on representing externalized power, and power itself as some form of greater importance of any form of being over another… :)

  3. Jayson on 02.02.2014 at 03:05 (Reply)

    ^ I agree, I grew up in a rough housing estate in London and was bullied because i wasn’t fighting back, so they basically took me as a weak person, yet not understanding the strength to suffer, as you put it Julie. I got kicked out of school due to a teacher having a grudge on me and i guess its their word against mine. I have learned a lot from life experiences, which has moulded me to the person i am today, yet alot of people judge the cover before reading the book nowadays. I think if i was an extrovert, i’d probably have a completely different life, morals and values would be so wrong. I guess being an introvert saved me from myself. :) thanks susan for your book.

  4. Anna Kaminsky on 09.02.2014 at 22:16 (Reply)

    This is very true.. so much of the world is intently focused on those people who talk the loudest or talk the most. We need more leaders who are willing to be quiet and observant… and show the world that quiet people have a place to. Unfortunately we seem to be swinging the other direction.. louder, faster, brighter… it’s not a world built for introverts. Of course there are places of escape, but daily life doesn’t offer that respite. At least not in North America, for the most part.

  5. rajat on 11.02.2014 at 01:17 (Reply)

    Dear all,
    I have been reader of this blog and i like what is being discussed here.
    Here are some of my thoughts :) based on my research and experience.

    Gandhi’s strength came from being a deeply spiritual person although he was an introvert. He used to read Bhagvad Gita, an ancient spiritual text and used to held Satsangs(singing devotional songs)in large gatherings. He also learnt Kriya Yoga from Paramahansa Yogananda in 1935 as mentioned in the book “Autobiography of a Yogi” Page 425.

    So, for an introvert person some spiritual practices like meditation, Yoga can give enormous strength.
    As i can speak from my own experience of being an introvert myself….Since i have started practicing meditations taught by “Art of Living.org” it has helped me a lot. These are very simple to practice and effective tool.
    Meditation and “Sudarshan Kriya” – (a rythmic breathing exercise) helps to quiet the chattering mind, Specially for the introverts when there are too many thoughts in the mind and there are few people you can talk to, it becomes difficult, and you think that there is something wrong with you.
    So it is very important to gain control over your unwanted thoughts by practicing meditations or something else.

    Also i feel that since introverts love spending time alone, therefore it is easier for them to practice meditations.

    I would invite all of you to try this and share.
    http://www.artofliving.org/

    Love,
    Rajat B.

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