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Gandhi and The One Shoe Syndrome

And for another Gandhi Jayanti, I thought I’d share one of my favorite stories from the life of the Mahatma.

It concerns a rail journey that the young Gandhi was to undertake on his return to India. He waited on the platform at the railway station for the train to arrive. In those days, it was not unusual for the British rail company to stop the train at a station only if some whites wanted to get on. Or off. In case there were no white passengers, the train would slow down at the station – and Indians – old and young – would scramble onto (or off) the moving train.

And it so happened that as the young Gandhi climbed onto the moving train, one shoe slipped off his foot. And as he bent to try and grab it, it slithered down onto the track, even as the train gathered momentum.

In a flash, Gandhi reached for the shoe on the other foot, and threw it down towards the fast-disappearing other shoe on the track.

As a perplexed onlooker wondered aloud if Gandhi had indeed lost it completely, he explained: “Ah well, if someone was to find one of my shoes, hopefully he’ll find the other one too, and thus have a fine new pair of shoes for himself!”

What a man! And what a wonderful instinctive response!

In this age of scams and greed and never-ending wants and the growing multitude of unhappy-rich, it just strikes me that we could all benefit from taking a leaf out of the Mahatma’s book.

Our typical response is different – so very different from the Mahatma’s. If you – or I – were in the Mahatma’s shoes (literally!), how would we have reacted?

Probably felt miserable for the rest of the journey, at the loss of a new shoe. Complained about the callousness of the railway system. Cursed the engine driver who had caused the loss. Worried about how we’d manage once we reached our destination. That one lost shoe would have played on our mind all the way, piling on the misery.

Unfortunately for us, we tend to focus on what we don’t have. Our mind zeroes in on what we’ve lost. That other shoe. And we carry that burden of loss, adding to our woes. When instead we could so easily focus on what we have – and see if that could be of use to someone. Giving away that second shoe didn’t just make some poor Indian happy (remember, a shoe was quite a luxury for most of our countrymen in those days!) It made Gandhi a happier man too.

So maybe it’s time we all shifted focus. And instead of jostling to become go-getters – wanting more, more, more, we ought to learn to become go-givers. Learning to give. To share. Instead of spending our waking lives worrying about the shoe that got away, maybe we should thank God for the shoe we still have, and discover how giving it away could make us – and someone else – happier.

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