Day #677:Gandhi on the Benefit of Shyness

I am currently reading  Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography The Story of My Experiments With Truth

There are a lot of remarkable things you read about Gandhi’s life that makes you appreciate why he is considered one of the greatest leaders of the past century. A few things have struck me about his character particularly how he dealt with people,his spirituality and searching for meaning, his fame, power and influence.

One of the interesting topics he discussed is on how his shy countenance which many people would consider a disadvantage for a leader of his repute turns out to be a huge advantage. Today we are beset with the image of the extrovert, charismatic leader inspiring people with great speeches. Gandhi’s story confirms to us, the core quality of a leader is rarely his outward disposition but the inner battles he wins day in day out.

Referring to his shy nature, Gandhi writes:

“It was only in South Africa that I got over this shyness, though I never completely overcame it. It was impossible for me to speak impromptu. I hesitated whenever I had to face strange audiences and avoided making a speech whenever I could. Even today I do not think I could or would even be inclined to keep a meeting of friends engaged in idle talk.

I must say that, beyond occasionally exposing me to laughter, my constitutional shyness has been no disadvantage whatever. In fact I can see that, on the contrary, it has been all to my advantage. My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writing. I have thus been spared many a mishap and waste of time. Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word. We find so many people impatient to talk. There is no chairman of a meeting who is not pestered with notes for permission to speak. And whenever the permission is given the speaker generally exceeds the time-limit, asks for more time, and keeps on talking without permission. 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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