Arun Gandhi Addresses the Origin of Be the Change:
“Yes, I will do what I can to make the correction.”
By Arleen Lorrance
In the aftermath of discovering that I had originated Be the Change You Want to See Happen, I decided to pursue further by asking Gandhi’s grandson, Arun, if he would correct the misattribution to Mahatma Gandhi of the phrase since it appears to have originated in an interview with him years before. What follows is my exchange with him.
For years there has been controversy over the origin of Be the Change. It has been wrongly attributed to Gandhi, and even you have said there is no documentation that he ever said that phrase and that you paraphrased his meaning.
The origin of those very words is The Love Principles which came into being in a ghetto high school in NYC in 1970 during The Love Project. The phrase appears in several books and articles by Arleen Lorrance. It is time to set the record straight, I think. It would seem appropriate that you now go beyond saying you paraphrased to acknowledging the origin. Please see these two articles on the subject. [I sent him the article in Compassionate Spirit and my piece from Emerging, June 2012.]
I look forward to your response. Arleen Lorrance
I had no idea if I would hear back from him, but sure enough I received the following initial reply from Victor Spence, the International Representative for Arun Gandhi.
Please see below a response to your email by Arun Gandhi:
The tone of your email suggests that I plagiarized this phrase from the original author. I did nothing of the sort. The phrase is common, I have no copyrights over it, and I am sure if anyone takes the trouble to research all of English literature from times immemorial this phrase may be found in the same and other versions. My grandfather rarely made speeches in English; even a lot of his English writings are originally in his own language. They are all translations (at least 90 per cent of them) from the Indian languages. So, I still maintain that the phrase attributed to him is a translation of what he said in his speeches in the 1930s and 1940s. However, as I said, we do not have any copyright over this phrase and anyone who wants to attribute it to another author is welcome to do so. I will not retract my statement because I knew nothing of the existence of this phrase in the literature you quote. — Arun Gandhi
Remaining true to the spirit of The Love Principles, I wrote back to Arun. Before doing so, I took several days to be sure that my remarks were coming from my heart center so that clear energy might be communicated in written words.
I appreciated receiving a response from you.
I am sorry you read the tone of my email as suggesting that you plagiarized from the original author. That was in no way my intention. This is one of the troubles with sending written words unaccompanied by the voice speaking them.
That said, your grandfather was an extraordinary human being whose entire life was a statement of being the change he wanted to see happen. His life is a model for all of us.
As you say, no one has copyrights over ideas. The reason I raised the issue with you is that many people have been searching online to discover the origin of the exact phrase Be the Change. The closest they came until recently was when they asked you if Gandhi said that phrase and you indicated that that was what he meant and that you were paraphrasing what your grandfather said. They include in their discussion the specific paragraph to which you referred.
One of the people who awakened the discussion was Brian Morton. I think you might find his piece interesting. (NY Times Op-Ed Falser Words Were Never Spoken: www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html)
All this came to my attention in an email to me from someone doing Wikiquotes research. He wanted to pin down when the phrase was first used and he came upon The Love Principles that I brought into being in 1970. Since then an exciting flurry has been set in motion.
I understand your desire to leave your statement as is, as a paraphrase of what your grandfather said or meant. What I had hoped in my previous request to you was that if and when you were again questioned about the phrase you would add that it has come to your attention that the exact words that are being used widely today have an origin in The Love Project/The Love Principles, 1970.
That said, we can put all this to rest and I will respond on my own when people inquire as to the origin. From my end, it is a great honor to be in any way associated with Gandhi, and more importantly to the incredible example his life represents.
Blessings in your continuing work, Arleen
Within a very short time, I received a direct response from Arun which touched me deeply and was a wonderful validation for me.
Nice to hear back from you. Perhaps I was a bit too sensitive, I don’t know. But your explanation now certainly makes better sense. Thank you for bringing it to my notice and, yes, I will do what I can to make the correction.
With good wishes – Arun
It was remarkable to me that he would say “…and yes, I will do what I can to make the correction.” I responded to him as follows:
Thank you so much for this open-hearted reply and for hearing what I was truly saying. I sincerely appreciate your statement that you will do what you can to make the correction. I am deeply moved by the grandness of that gesture.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of your grandfather, his ability to transcend conflicts, his gift of taking situations to higher levels where union could replace division. Your response to me is in that spirit and, even more important, it is an example of your own life and work, of your contribution to bringing peace and harmony to the world. I am grateful. Arleen
Not long after this affirming response from Arun, I saw a fabulous documentary called Searching for Sugar Man about a writer who set out to find the truth of what happened to a singer named Rodriguez whose career in the States was over even before it began, but who (even though he knew nothing about it) become an icon and an inspiration to thousands in South Africa in the battle against apartheid. Forty years later Rodriguez was “resurrected” and is doing concerts for multitudes of music fans in Capetown.
Though in small measure, I couldn’t help but see a parallel to his story in the uniting of the phrase Be the Change with its originator.
Life is good.