When Gandhi arrived in Marseille on his way to the Second Roundtable Conference, he was wearing his traditional Indian clothing, a dhoti and shawl, which according to one biographer, “scandalized the French journalists.” Gandhi’s response to them was that “in their country, they wear plus-fours, but I prefer minus-fours.” And when he had to go through customs and declarations, he said, “My earthly possessions consist of six spinning wheels, prison dishes, a can of goat’s milk, six homespun loin-cloths and towels, and my reputation which cannot be worth much.” In the midst of serious times, he kept a sense of humour. It disarmed people around him, warmed them up, and drew them to him naturally. He knew he was a contentious figure, after all.
But Gandhi didn’t just use gentle humour with people who were inoffensive to him. He could draw upon it when people were unkind or disrespectful as well. Once, for example, when a journalist wrote a completely inaccurate article about his ideas, Gandhi told him that he had a sense of humor enough to be able to let it go. He added, he would even be willing to work again with this journalist in the future.
Humor, while it can be used as a tool to hurt, humiliate or isolate people, can also be used gently and with discernment. Gandhi showed us that it can help us to be more detached from our dearest ideals. This kind of detachment, paradoxically, can bring us closer to them, make our commitment all the stronger.
Find the humor in an otherwise stressful situation. Could it become a habit?
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