Lessons from Mahatma Gandhi for Dealing with Difficult People

Lessons from Mahatma Gandhi for Dealing with Difficult People

Mahatma Gandhi has gone down as one of the most well respected and loved civil rights leaders in the world. He spent his life fighting for the independence of his Indian people through strict and unwavering use of non-violent acts and protests. Gandhi ended up giving his life for his cause and sending his name throughout history as one of the most influential people of all time.

Throughout the protests, aggression, and even brutal beatings Gandhi and his people remained nonviolent and peaceful throughout all of their actions towards their ultimate salvation. It is because of this that we feel it necessary to examine the lessons of Gandhi (Most coming from his autobiography) in order to come to a better understanding of how to deal with harsh, aggressive, unreasonable, or opposing people in our lives.

First, we set out to understand how we should internalize the events that unfolded in these interactions within ourselves. Only after that can we think about how to manifest these thoughts into external actions to those same people.


“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

You must maintain your mind as if it was a sacred place. Letting people into your mind to spread bad ideas and poisons only makes your mind a lesson enjoyable place to stay. There are many who carry dirty feet with them everywhere they go and desire to spread their filth through all the minds that they come into contact with. This does not make them evil, it is just the effect of the poison in the dirt. The same can happen to you if you would let them occupy your mind. Do not let these bad thoughts dirty your mind so that you have to do the same to others. Keep your mind a secret palace and only let in positive and healthy ideas so that you can foster a healthy mindset.

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

When we experience someone who does something against us, it is easy to generalize that the rest of the population is out to get us, too. If someone cuts us off in traffic, steals our wallet, or ask in a harsh and rude manner towards you, it does not mean that the world is this way. It does not even mean that this person is that way. Since we do not know the full story of the world and that individual, we cannot say that is who they are.

If we take a cup of ocean water and see that there are no whales inside the cup, we cannot conclude that there are no whales in the ocean. If we experience tainted water in the ocean, it does not mean that the whole ocean is tainted.

It is easy to generalize and believe the worst about the world so we can cut our vulnerability into it. If we are no longer vulnerable to the world, then the world cannot hurt us. This is the easy way out. The harder thing to do is to continue believing that there is good in the world, and it is in the majority. When we believe that the world is good, we will act as if the world is good. This will perpetuate positive acts and fulfill that exact prophecy.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”

Forgiveness is tremendously more difficult than holding a grudge. In order to forgive, we have to rise above the event that happened for the resolution of peace. The reason that forgiveness is in the internal section is that most of the time forgiveness is really for yourself.

Just as it is described in Siddhartha, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

When we hold onto grudges and are reluctant to forgive, we are the primary person being burned. We are the ones who asked to carry that burden. We think that by putting ourselves through that burden that we are somehow hurting the recipient more. Even if that was true, is it really worth it to bring yourself down just so you can drag another person down with you?


“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.”

This is where we begin to see you what we are supposed to do externally to those difficult people that we encounter. We conquer them with love. It would be the easy thing to fight fire with fire, thinking that our fire will over rage theirs. However, are we looking for the easy way out again? No. The easy way out never helped us in the long run.

When someone throws their hate at us, they actually want us to react negatively. Why else would they be doing so? They want us to receive their anger. They want us to pick up their hot coals.

If we do receive their hate and let it manifest in us, that leaves both of us worse off. You now have another person’s heat flowing through you, and the person who gave it to you will go on believing that is a good method of dispensing their hate.

Use love as a shield from peoples heat, and be unaffected when they tried to give you theirs. Be the example of how to react in difficult situations, not the victim.

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

The world is not fair. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. Seeking retribution and revenge for wrongdoings against you may not lead to such a satisfying ending as you think. Gandhi sets out reminders that, in a world devoid of forgiveness and filled with rage, we would constantly be fighting each other in order to get the upper hand or get even.

This is a reminder to not lower yourself to the standards of those who wronged you. Wrong actions are not justified by more wrong actions. By seeking revenge and retribution, we become the very thing that hurt us in the beginning.

“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.”

Loving at all is being vulnerable. We have to expose ourselves to the ups and downs of emotion in order to experience love at its fullest. Without vulnerability, we are never fully able to see through the walls that we keep up. You can’t feel a hug while in a suit of armor. In order to love, we must be exposed. Being exposed requires a great bit of bravery since the availability for others to hurt us.

While the risk is high, the reward is the same. When we put who we are on the line we can often find that we are received well. Even when that vulnerability comes back to hurt us, we must ask ourselves: Do we want to be the one who got hurt once, were the one who is unafraid to be hurt again?

“Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

Hate is a disease, and it affects many. None of us can truly say that we have never been at the reigns of a hateful tirade before. If you haven’t, then you must have a great immune system! The thing is, other people may not have the same resistance to hatred enveloping them. Just as we cannot be mad at someone for developing a sore throat, we cannot blame them for falling victim to a poisonous mindset— at least not fully. of course, there are preventative measures that can be taken to avoid being overthrown by such poisons, but sometimes they don’t work. It happens to all of us.

Whenever someone is overthrown by anger, fear, jealousy, or harshness it is better to look beyond the face value of their actions.

“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps, and whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.”

--The Bhagavad Gita

Ending with the quote that Gandhi most likely read to himself throughout his lifetime, we are reminded to hold our ground. While it may be difficult at times to hold true to the ideals of peace and love with so much hate and violence around us, it is worth it to set that standard. Those who adopt this mentality from the beginning inspire others to do the same. Be the beacon of change in the pivot point for others to do the same as you. Just as Gandhi, leading by example is the best way to lead.

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