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Nonviolent parenting: penance, not punishment

Arun Gandhi lauds his parents approach


When Arun Gandhi referred to “violent parenting” last week in his talk at Pacific University, he wasn’t just referring to spanking or beating. He was talking about parents who inflict punishment of any kind.

“I was brought up in a nonviolent home,” Gandhi said. That meant he and his siblings were never punished — but not because they were never naughty.

Instead, if Gandhi (or his sisters) misbehaved, his parents would blame themselves for poor parenting. They would fast as penance, sitting and chatting at the dinner table with their children, but not eating.

“We loved them so much we never were bad again,” said Gandhi, using a bit of hyperbole.

When living with his grandfather, the world-famous Mahatma Gandhi, Arun tried an aggressively rude strategy to get a free autograph. The Mahatma had decided to charge $5 apiece for his autograph to raise money for untouchables, women and children. He refused to give his grandson a free one.

Arun began waiting until his grandfather was meeting with high-level officials, then barging in and asking loudly for an autograph. He hoped his grandfather would comply “just to get rid of me.”

Instead, the Mahatma would cover his grandson’s mouth, hug Arun's head to his chest and continue the meeting. He never reacted angrily or sent Arun away. When the officials objected, he told them it was a “private joke” between him and his grandson and continued the meeting.

Arun never got the autograph.

Back with his family in South Africa, Arun once drove his father into town for a business meeting and agreed to pick him up at 5 p.m. Arun left the car with a mechanic to be fixed, as his father instructed, then ran to the local movie theater.

“I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double feature, I lost track of time,” he said. When he finally picked up the car, he was an hour late to get his father. Embarassed, he lied and told his father he was late because the car hadn’t been fixed yet.

His father, of course, had already called the mechanic, looking for Arun.

Instead of hopping in the car to ride home, Arun’s father told his son he wanted to figure out what went wrong with his parenting and how his son had gotten the message that it was OK to lie. He walked the 18 miles home, with Arun creeping along slowly behind him in the car.

“If he had punished me,” Arun said, “I would have just endured it and made sure I never got caught again. By taking the responsibility on himself, he taught me a lesson I will never forget.”



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