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“I have discovered that my being at peace within is fundamental to being a peacemaker in the world outside. I cannot bring peace even to my own family if I am not at peace myself. And if I am not at peace with my own family I cannot bring peace to the world.” Kiran Gandhi shares from his experiences of working as a peacemaker.

Once upon a time, in ancient India, there was a tailor who transformed himself into a great sage. The king came to pay his respect to the sage. He gifted the sage a pair of golden scissors studded with diamonds. But the sage refused the gift. The king was worried that he had made a mistake. He asked the sage, “What can I give you that would be of use to you?” The sage replied, “Give me a needle”. Seeing the look of surprise on the king’s face, the sage clarified, “I refused your earlier gift of scissors because it cuts and divides. But the needle is something which joins and unites.”

That story is perhaps indicative of the basic DNA of a peacemaker – a desire to unite so strong that no temptation can distract it. We are aware that a lot of divisive forces in the world are fueled by inducements of wealth and lucrative rewards; others by promises of martyrdom and a place in heaven. The peacemaker must have the strength of character of that sage.

Coming to the world in which we live today, a series of economists, beginning with Adam Smith, have believed that world peace would be best achieved through increased interdependency between nations and people pursuing their mutual material interests. People would shun war and aggression when their livelihood and security are not at stake. In reality, despite globalization, wars have not ceased. Aggression has taken the shape of frequent military interventions and clashes based on ethnicity, religion and race, and for control over scarce resources. To what extent has mutuality of interests between nations and people helped to keep peace?

Anthropologists, who take a scientific view, believe that despite our diversity as human beings, we all basically want the same things. According to them, the fear we hold of diversity is irrational. It can be removed by people getting to know each other better and realizing that we are not very different. Exchanges and dialogues across diversity divides is what they recommend.

A deeper study has come up with the finding that the cause of much conflict is ‘worst-case reasoning’ promoted chiefly by military and legal experts, politicians and community leaders. Such reasoning aggravates mistrust and leads to aggressive behaviours on the part of individuals and people, which, in turn, invites an equally aggressive response from the other side. Before too long, it escalates into a zero sum game. This can be said to be the story of most major conflicts around the world between nations, between religions, between tribes and so on. The challenge then is how to avoid such ‘worst-case reasoning’.

Psychologists, engaged in diagnosing causes of aggression and violence in societies, believe the source of all aggression is unhappy family life. A happy childhood lays the foundation for a secure human being who sees joy in relationships. Most children who experience a lack of parental love and breakdown in relationship between their parents grow up to be insecure and mistrusting by nature. Hitler and Mao Tse Tung who led by brute force causing loss of millions of lives came from broken homes and had very unhappy childhoods. Psychologists say a happy world can be built only from secure and happy individuals, brought up in happy families. Their emphasis is on improving family life. I believe there certainly is a lot of truth in what the psychologists say. But do they have the whole answer to the challenge of peace?

Perhaps neither the economists, nor the anthropologists, nor the psychologists have a complete answer to the challenge of peace-making although they point a part of the way to it. A more complete answer may lie in the spiritual realm, in what His Holiness, the Dalai Lama teaches. In The Way to Freedom, he writes that man can achieve his greatest happiness by working for the happiness of others. However, for being effective in this pursuit man needs to have the capacity to perceive the diverse aspirations of others. This capacity is diminished by delusions like desire, anger, pride and ignorance. A mind governed by delusions is an untamed mind, which throws us recklessly into the abyss. We have to develop a mind free of delusions. It calls for self-mastery. When we move towards that, love and compassion spring from our hearts. Only a mind governed by love would have the patience for peace-building work. Only peace based on love can be lasting.

Self-mastery then is the DNA of a peacemaker. But how are we to achieve self-mastery? Ancient masters have concluded that true self-mastery can be achieved only through spiritual processes of inner purification and connecting to the divine within. Inner purification is purification of the mind to free it from growth-retarding habits, thoughts and beliefs we have accumulated. It is a continuous process of looking inwards and being truly honest with oneself. If this search is followed by acts of restitution for the wrong we may have done, we are more fully liberated and connected with the divine core within. Whenever I have done this, I have experienced great inner liberation and discovered a capacity for bridge-building, which I did not think I had.

Let me share my experience in this regard. It began with my need to be at peace with myself and with my family. I was a student then. I had a lot of anger towards my father because I felt he always tried to have things his way. I felt he needed to change. I was also very jealous of my younger brothers, as I felt they received too much attention and praise. I was also angry and cynical with the world at large.

It was at that time that I met an organization, now called Initiatives of Change, which encourages people to reflect if we are a part of the problems of the world or the solution and to begin by changing ourselves first. I carried out an experiment of sitting in silence and listing the faults I saw in others, which were also in me. I realized that the anger and jealousies I had harboured in my heart are divisive forces and are a part of the problem in the world. After considerable struggle within, I decided to get honest about these feelings with my father and my brothers, by saying I was sorry. My father was very forgiving. He thereafter trusted me with all my important decisions. Being liberated from jealousy, I found new love for my brothers, which has been a foundation for our unity over four decades since then.

Encouraged by these experiences of personal change, I searched in my quiet times for my life’s purpose. My ‘inner voice’ told me to devote myself to building peace in industry. I had graduated in engineering from India’s best technology college and was given a job at the country’s largest automobile company, Tata Motors, located in one of India’s most backward provinces, called Bihar. At that time, most of the Indian industry was suffering from industrial unrest. It reflected in huge production losses, high costs and poor quality. The company I joined was no exception. However, something within told me, change was possible. My inner voice told me I would be used to make a difference. Thereafter, I was most amazingly led by divine guidance received through a daily practice of inner listening. Its first outcome was the end of rivalry between two bitterly-divided, powerful union leaders in my department.

I come from a management family. A key factor, which helped me win the trust and friendship of these men was my honesty in sharing with them my negative view of union leaders, for which I said I was sorry. In my so doing, I was dealing with the memory that the working class carries of being exploited by owners and managers for a long period of labour history. Sharing my own experience of change, I introduced these two men to the practice of having quiet times and obeying the inner voice. In response, they took the courageous call to end their animosity and usher in a new era of industrial harmony in our department, leading to a significant increase in production and improvement in quality. In the eyes of the management, their change was almost a miracle.

After this key experience, I was invited by the company to join its management training department. My inner voice told me it would be the right next step for me. I thought to use this opportunity to design training programmes, which could multiply my first laboratory experiment of conflict resolution and peace-building on the shop floor. In my quiet time I had the vision of a training programme, which came to be called the ‘Human Relations at Work’ programme. The entire 24,000 strong workforce of the company, comprising of management and workers was trained in this three-day programme in batches over the next five years. The honest communication initiated in the programme between managers and workers, transformed years of conflict and unrest into industrial peace.

The objective of the ‘Human Relations at Work (HRW)’ programme was to provide a safe forum for trust-building through honest dialogue between managers and workers from the same work area in a learning environment. A training design was developed drawing from principles of transactional analysis, some games in group dynamics and the ideas drawn from Initiatives of Change. What happened between people during programme breaks was as important as what happened in the sessions. As the three-day programme progressed, one could hear participants discussing the applicability of what they were learning to their real life situations and problems. Honest sharing was seen to break down relationship barriers between managers and workers. One could clearly see that a lot of the industrial relations disputes were in reality human relations issues of insensitivity, hurt, lack of listening etc. A key perspective change, which was reported by participants, was their realization that in most conflicts both sides lose and that it is possible to solve most problems through honest dialogue.

However, the task of training all the 24,000 employees was a daunting one. I realized that it would take too long if it were to be carried out by me and a handful of regular trainers, one programme at a time. A large number of quality trainers were needed to run parallel programmes for a faster coverage. The question was where to find them?

Once again, I was given an idea in my quiet time, by which I was able to set into motion a process for identifying and developing new trainers. In every batch of HRW that I ran, I looked out for potential trainers amongst the participants. These were the managers, supervisors and even workers who showed a readiness to apply to their own selves what was taught in the classroom and openness to change. I met them after the programme and asked them if they would like to become trainers. If they consented I facilitated them in being able to conduct a training session of their choice. I also tried to arrange for them to attend some or the other programme of Initiatives of Change at the earliest available opportunity. These programmes helped them go to a deeper level of personal change and go beyond to become agents of change. In this way, over 100 trainers were trained as internal facilitators. They included workers as well as union leaders, some of whom became excellent trainers. It was revolutionary for a manager to be sitting as participant in training led by a worker or a union leader. With the help of these internal trainers, we were able to run a number of parallel HRW programmes to achieve a training coverage of the 24,000 workforce in just five years.

As batch-after-batch of HRW was conducted in the company’s training centre, a palpable change in workplace culture was reported. Hundreds of hidden conflicts and tensions were brought up for direct discussion and subsequent resolution. Arising from an enhanced trust level between labour and management, hundreds of voluntary improvement groups, called Small Groups, comprising of representatives of the workers and the management were formed. These Small Groups, which functioned on the pattern of Japan’s famed ‘Quality Circles’, contributed solutions to a wide range of the company’s challenges like quality, productivity and industrial relations. An ILO study, which evaluated this work, confirmed its far reaching impact. One of the visible impacts of HRW programme and Small Group activity was the sharp rise in the number of improvement ideas given by employees from a mere 2,000 in a year to over 28,000 in a year, saving the company a significant amount of money besides improving commitment to work.

The impact of HRW went beyond the workplace to the wider society, to help employees resolve tensions in their families and in the community, in which they lived. In this process, my wife, Neeru, too played an important part. With her support, I started a weekly meeting in our home for people to come with their families and talk freely about their difficulties and learn to seek inner guidance for finding solutions. Several of those who came, were able to find healing to strained relationships in their families by changing their own attitudes and were able to deal with tensions in their neighbourhoods and communities by taking initiatives for reconciling differences.

As community leaders, company employees, mainly workmen, were successful in averting communal riots in their neighbourhoods when the rest of the country went up in flames, following the assassination of Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. The city’s police chief, who observed this, was curious to know the secret behind what he saw. Many employees, inspired by their inner voice, took on to redress centuries of injustice and discriminatory treatment meted out to the tribal people of the region and the ‘untouchables’ in Indian society by higher castes and the wealthy. They took time to reach out in friendship to people of nearby villages, a ‘harijan busti’ (a settlement of sweepers) and students of surrounding colleges, offering them HRW programmes.

Shailendra Mahato, a leader of the native people from village Dorkasai, 15 km outside the city, who attended one such programme, apologized to his rival village leader from a different political party for his animosity and divisive politics, which had divided the village population and had held up their development. His apology was reciprocated by a similar apology from his opponent, opening the way to a new partnership between them. Their village development accelerated thereafter, bringing with it better schools, irrigation and sanitation facilities. Some years later, Dorkasai was declared the best village of Singhbhum district by the state government.

PK Mukherjee, a company supervisor and a brahmin by birth, was one of those from a higher caste who decided to change his attitude and behaviour towards the ‘harijans’, regarded as untouchables by higher castes. He invited harijans from the nearby busti home for tea. Earlier, if ever tea was offered to a sweeper in their home it would be served in a different cup specially kept aside for them and would be washed afterwards only by the domestic servant. Mukherjee, going against his orthodox father’s opposition, broke this family’s tradition by offering tea to the harijans in the same cups as were given to other guests and thereafter all cups were mixed up and washed by everyone together, including by Mukherjee, symbolizing a break from India’s unfortunate tradition of untouchability.

Before I end, I am reminded of an incident from the life of Mahatma Gandhi. When Hindus and Muslims were killing each other, a man fell at his feet crying, “I am a sinner. I have killed many with my own hands. I will surely go to hell”. This man’s son had been cut to pieces in the riots. In revenge, he had killed many of the other community. Gandhi took him by the shoulder and said to him, “You can still go to heaven if you atone for what you have done. Adopt an orphaned child from the community you hate. Treat him as your own. Raise him and educate him. This is the way to make amends”. The man became a peacemaker for the rest of his life.

To conclude, from my personal experience I have discovered that my being at peace within is fundamental to being a peacemaker in the world outside. I cannot bring peace even to my own family if I am not at peace myself. And if I am not at peace with my own family I cannot bring peace to the world. On the contrary, I am a better peacemaker when I have my family’s support. Inner peace grows through a process of self-mastery as we replace the growth-retarding habit of blaming others by learning to become the change we want the world to be. Self-mastery is the DNA of a peacemaker. When peace is found within, we are open to receive divine guidance for becoming instruments in the hand of a higher power for bringing peace to troubled situations. That is what I have experienced.

(Kiran Gandhi took to HR consulting and training, after having worked as Head of Human Resources with three market-leaders and global Indian corporations. His engineering background (B.Tech IIT, Bombay) and MBA (XLRI, Jamshedpur) give him the ability to relate easily with the operating and strategic issues of any organization. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Reproduced from Change for Better/ October-December 2011

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