Last week I laid out my admiration for a luminous Hollywood starlet, one boundary-defying citizen of the world, and my own tough-as-nails grandmother. To round off this three-part series on heroes, I present to you my final pick. In my mind, this figure represents the last word in human progress and heroism. After all, it’s nor really extinction-event meteors or mutant villains that this planet needs defending from. More than anything, we’ve needed someone to save us from ourselves.
On days when one too many surly teenagers threaten my faith in humanity, the thought of this individual’s life and philosophy provides some much-needed perspective. As much as ignorance, aggression and narcissism command a lot of airtime these days, I’d like to believe that human nature is no better or worse than it was a century ago. If Gandhi could make inroads for non-violence in a most hostile, embittered social and political climate, there’s got to be hope for even the most belligerent present-day party. I once researched Gandhi’s life and legacy for a high school philosophy class and it turned my teenaged cynicism right around. His concept of satyagraha – loosely defined as the firmness of love and truth – is remarkably pure. It’s based on a beautiful paradox: truth and love are transformative forces that empower people not to undertake violent revolution, but to act with self-discipline and dignity even while taking part in large-scale civil disobedience. Gandhi himself was no less a study in paradoxes, having gone from British-educated lawyer (starched collars and all) to the iconic figure of India’s slight, cotton-swathed spiritual leader. Although I’m reluctant to put Gandhi-the-person on a pedestal for every last one of his beliefs or practices, the overall positive impact of his philosophy is undeniable. He altered the course of history in his own time, provided the philosophical backbone of many civil rights protests, and continues to be a reference point for latter-day movements. This person set us earthlings a new standard of behaviour, and I for one hope dearly that we keep trying to meet it.