Many of our best people were really bad people.
But I read a lot, so I already knew this, and it’s actually not the worst of Gandhi’s actions. Interestingly enough, many of our great leaders and icons were massively flawed individuals. Martin Luther King Jr. was a documented adulterer and plagiarist (he plagiarized some significant portion of his major college work), and Abraham Lincoln himself was a clear racist:
Here’s him arguing for black rights in a debate with Douglas Charleston (who I guess wasn’t as hippie liberal as this):
I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.
Then there’s the words of my favorite statesmen of all times–Thomas Jefferson:
…all men are created equal…
Well, he didn’t use the word men because that was an accepted proxy for humankind at the time. He used it because it didn’t apply to what were considered non-men of the time, e.g. blacks, women, and non-christians. In other words, when he said “men”, he really meant Christian, white men.
So what’s the point?
The point is something I think most readers of this post already know: we mustn’t look for purity in anything, lest we become disillusioned with the concept we are trying to keep pure.
Newton was a freakin’ alchemist, for God’s sake. Embrace the positive wherever you can find it. Everyone is flawed, and the earlier your time the higher the chances that you hold/held barbaric beliefs. Don’t let the negative in one’s belief system obscure the progress they gave us.
And above all, don’t hide the flaws of these greats people. MLK was a phenomenal man, despite his flaws, as was Lincoln. The worst thing we can do is teach children a version of these people that is not supported by fact. The pushing of this sort of alternative reality on a child only makes for a harsh landing once the truth is learned–much like Santa Claus, or God.
Instead we should teach children to expect flaws in people, and to focus on the positive in them instead. The goal should be to teach management of tolerances for various degrees of each within people–and within ideologies.
That’s where the difficult work is. ::