Humility has a special kind of long-lasting, far-reaching power. This is something I realized after noticing some interesting connections that give new meaning to the idea that “the meek shall inherit the earth.”
Revolutions are everywhere. This year there was the Arab Spring, followed by large spontaneous uprisings that broke out in another unexpected place this summer – India. There, along with the rising economy, the people have had to tolerate ever-increasing greed and corruption at all levels of government, and decade after decade they have seen shameless “public servants” in the pockets of big corporations. When New Delhi police barred revered anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare from entering a public park where he planned to stay and fast in protest of rampant corruption, hundreds of thousands of fed-up people came out to street demonstrations all over the country. As India is my family’s place of origin, these protests caught my attention. It all happened so suddenly, this passionate outpouring of ordinary people.
Then there is Anna Hazare himself, a fascinating leader whose ideas we should all get to know. As the story goes, Kisan Baburao Hazare (“Anna” means “older brother”) was a decorated war hero, the sole survivor of an attack on his platoon during the India-Pakistan border wars in 1965. Returning home from the war, he changed his life to serve and empower the people by spreading ideals of nonviolence, self-sufficiency, and anti-corruption. Hazare learned about nonviolence from the work of a great Gandhian social change activist named Vinobha Bhave. Bhave’s gentle revolution – the Bhoodan Movement (the Land Donation Movement) – was a simple, breath-taking journey of humility that brought about social justice and dignity. In the 1950s Vinobha walked hundreds of miles, making unique use of the Indian cultural custom where a son is entitled to ask for a portion of the family’s land. As he walked, he visited property owners, asking them to consider him as a son and give him some land. That land was then transferred to a needy family. For years, he trekked on, joined by others from India and abroad, providing 5 million acres to landless families and bringing out compassion among the privileged landowners.
I recently met another nonviolent leader, Pietro Ameglio of Mexico, who also counts Vinobha Bhave as an important influence in his work. Pietro has undertaken efforts to help create a widespread nonviolence movement in Mexico to end the suffering caused by drug wars. Pietro told me about his deep admiration for Vinobha Bhave and the Bhoodan movement, and how they have influenced his own ideas and life’s work. Pietro described the reality of the drug wars in Mexico not as the crime-fighting scenarios we are led to believe, but as a confounding web of corruption connecting drug cartels to government officials, police, and business leaders. In Mexico, Pietro says, the people are truly fed up, and they are ready to make change happen.
Our tendency is to associate leadership and great movements with power and assertiveness. What we are witnessing now is that a conscious act of humility and service can ultimately inspire many thousands of people to fight corrupt powers a generation later and on both sides of the globe.