Saturday, February 05, 2011

Soul Force Rising

Sometimes I wish I had a much broader liberal arts education. The events in Egypt have opened another awareness door bringing bits of knowledge about the world from the background to the foreground. But what’s the real story? How did it come to this where young people are risking life and limb for the sake of a better life?

Back in the 1920s, Gandhi called it “soul force” or power devoted to justice and truth. When people are not treated with respect and dignity, when a leader’s moral authority no longer is directed to the interests and needs of ordinary people, the soul force rises. It is ingrained in our beings.

There is typically a spark that unleashes the energy of the simmering soul force. For Gandhi and many other Indian leaders it was April 10, 1919 when 379 demonstrators were massacred in an enclosed public square in Amritsar, India by a British General, Reginald Dyer. An estimated ten thousand had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh square to hear pro-Gandhi speakers.

In the background, the city was in chaos, with groups of Hindus and Muslims together burning buildings and tearing up railroad tracks in defiance of the rule of the “Raj”. Meanwhile Dyer, incensed that people had ignored his banning of all large public gatherings, barked an order to open fire (for ten minutes) directly into the densely packed crowd in Jallianwala Bagh. Screaming men, women and children ran for safety but there was nowhere to go in a space no larger than Trafalgar square. The narrow streets quickly became clogged bottlenecks.

Churchill’s sense of justice was shaken as was Gandhi’s. But Dyer was never held to account for his actions. The subsequent investigations concluded that martial law was justified and blamed Gandhi’s movement for undermining the rule of law. Although Churchill, who was not a fan of Gandhi's tactics and philosophy, tried every angle to see Dyer punished, the culture of the military won the day.

But, the spark of the soul force was struck. Gandhi so sympathized with the victims of Amritsar that he decided to call an end to his “splendid isolation” and join mainstream Indian politics.

It appears this is what is happening in Egypt. Too many injustices have piled up. The spark of Tunisia plus the kindling of social media ignited a firestorm.

As in society, can this happen in an organization? You bet. The difference is that the organization simply dies---goes bankrupt due to management malfeasance. Or, it languishes in mediocrity, increasing its numbers of beaten up employees while the courageous and the young people flee the premises.

We are all connected by the soul force. It is potent. When enabled for the sake of “the good society”, a concept espoused by the former Professor of Economics Emeritus at Harvard, John Kenneth Galbraith, it spreads as a powerful and positive force for change for the benefit of many.

Today, we have a powerful enabler: social media.

Arthur Herman, Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged an Age.

John Kenneth Galbraith, The Good Society: The Humane Agenda.