“I seem to remember telling you both that I would have to expel you if you broke any more school rules. Which goes to show that the best of us must sometimes eat our words….” Dumbledore to Harry and Ron in the final chapter to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling, 1998.

Two leaders in the Twentieth Century history knew the value of changing their minds. Thanks be to God that they did. They lived in different parts of the planet but had a major impact on their respective countries in the same era.

Mahatma Gandhi was the best known of the two throughout the world. Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every morning in his devotions for 27 years. His conclusion was to hate the British government but to love every individual Englishman. He was known for propagating the non-cooperation movement in the 1930s and 1940s which included the glaring phenomenon of volunteering to go to jail. In the midst of this Mahatma taught not to hate the judge, but to write in love an annual letter.

Gandhi taught not to clout police dogs –they were only doing what they had been taught to do. Not to curse the police since they are only carrying out their orders and they didn’t know what they were doing.  

 Gandhi’s disciples had been rigidly trained in non-violence, forgiveness, self-control and self-sacrifice. This was the how and why they won independence. He knew that this peaceful resistance could end up in anarchy. He wasn’t blind to the dangers. Amidst all this Gandhi declared in one of his letters that of course he contradicted himself.

What he meant was that at any one time we only know in part. As we learn more about life and develop better communication skills, we express ourselves differently to convey our new understanding. Maturity and growth brings new realizations and adjusts one’s understanding and point of view. It is absurd to hold it against someone when they change their mind after careful consideration!

 Do you have trouble with the very idea of changing your mind? Do you fear that you will look weak? Do you fear that no one will look at you the same if you seem indecisive? Gandhi was willing to step up to the plate and go to bat when the ball was in play. He was willing to strike out on some ideas because he knew he had home runs inside him. He began with a kernal of truth and developed from there.

The other Twentieth Century leader also knew enough to change his mind. The well known politician (at least to Canadians) Tommy Douglas decided that it wasn’t enough to spout theories. He served as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Premier of Saskatchewan between 1941 and 1961, becoming the first leader of the New Democratic Party. Before this rise to power he visited Germany in 1936 and was frightened into repenting of his eugenics tendencies. In 1944, as Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health, Tommy rejected two papers calling for the sterilization of the “feeble-minded”.

It is a little known fact that this Baptist minister of Saskatchewan was so desperate to do something to improve society’s lot in life during the Depression he began his career as a supporter of hereditarian theories. Along with other Canadians, he had been receptive to biological determinism where in 1933 he wrote his Master’s thesis supporting it. He had argued that “mentally and physically subnormal were…the causes of a good deal of the distress of the depression…threatened the smooth functioning of society.”

At the time, Canadians were preoccupied with concepts of “racial inefficiency, social inadequacy, and ill health.” Tommy and other Canadians wanted to restrict marriage to those holding certificates of health, segregate the “unfit” on state farms where they couldn’t procreate, birth information to “subnormal” families and sterilization of the “defective.” Don’t even begin to think we as a society are now immune to victim-blaming. We just give it new names and new targets. 

Americans had a racial eugenic agenda, the Brits had a “lower class” overflow concern (which WW II casualties took care of), and in Canada classist and racist agendas snuck into targeted sex instruction, intelligence testing, special education to social welfare, immigration and birth control.

Tommy hit the high ground when Hitler hit the lowest ground. Tommy helped to promote a social net for health care which we still struggle to maintain to this day. He stepped up to bat, practiced his skill, struck out on some ideas, developed in the skill of thinking things through and helped to hit a home run for the welfare of the Canadian people–all Canadian people.

Tension still continues. There were pretensions about being able to decide who should and should not reproduce. Are not such arrogant political agendas in play today?  We minimize services to the poor, keeping them uneducated and impoverished.  Others, with their “correct” thinking are encouraged to have many children. Governments think in terms of scarce resources. This is the invariable outcome.

This  blog is an invitation to think responsibly and to responsibly re-evaluate your direction periodically. Then you become a good leader of your own heart and lead others by serving them well. 

“It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, final chapter.

Resources:

S.R. Bakshi, Gandhi and his Techniques of Satyagraha, Oriental University Press, 1987, 88, 89.

Angus McLaren, Our Own Master Race; Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945, McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1990, 7-9, 14, 166.

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Raincoast Pub., Vancouver, 1999.

Janet Wiebe

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