Study of a Life Journey
Study of a Life Journey
Mahatma Gandhi is renowned as the father of India having championed the independence of the country from British rule using nonviolent approaches,for which he is fondly referred to as Bapu in India, which is the Gujarati equivalent of father. Born Mohandas, Karamchand Gandhi in 1869, he was bestowed the title Mahatma that means ‘vulnerable’ or ‘high souled’ in 1914 because of his nonviolent approach to freedom and civil rights. He lived for 78 years after being assassinated in 1948 in New Delhi, the then capital of the dominion of India, which later became the present-day country India. Indeed, Gandhi lived during an era of western colonization, discrimination, violence meted out by two world wars, and civil rights pursuits (Gandhi, 2018). As such, he lived a full life having grown from childhood, through adolescence, adulthood and into late adulthood experiencing different aspects of political, social, economic, and religious and the psychological tensions these presented. Therefore, Gandhi’s his life can be analyzed across the different developmental stages that led to his maturity using a stage-based theory of development that suggests that human development progresses through the eight stages of development as advanced by Erik Erikson, a renowned psychologist. The analysis would not only reveal the utility of Erikson’s model but would also help identify the levels to which Gandhi managed to resolve the psychological conflicts he experienced throughout his life.
Summary of Life Journey
Gandhi was born into a polygamous Hindu family in Porbandar, with his mother, Putlibai, being the fourth wife of his father Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi, who was serving as a chief minister. As such, he spent his childhood and was reared in a political and religious environment considering that his father was a powerful political figure and his mother was a strong adherent of Vaishnavism, which is a Hindu religious practice that has a significant influence of Jainism (Mandelbaum, 1973). Despite having undergone a rudimental elementary education while developing his religious, political and life philosophies, his demeanor was characterized by general passivity, which was divergent from the regular childhood and adolescent growth and development trajectory. Indeed, he barely scraped through education as an average student during his youth although he managed to get a college education. Despite having interrupted college education in India in which he dropped out of Samaldas College, he managed to England to further his education against protests from his family, especially his mother and young wife, and become a lawyer. His lawyer career took him to South Africa in 1893 to offer his services to his cousin, Abdullah. Although he ended up staying for 21 years in the midst of racial discrimination, his political interests were only ignited when he came face-to-face with racial discrimination in which the whites oppressed the black and colored people in the country. His political interests saw Gandhi return to India in 1915 to assist in the country’s struggle for independence. His late adulthood was spent in religious activities, political mentorship and a humble immaterial life before he was assassinated in New Delhi in his way to evening prayers. His nonviolent approach to politics and immaterial approach to life saw him influence greatly the pursuit for civil rights and eradication of discrimination particularly in South Africa and India, and subsequently political and economic ideologies. Seclude
Analysis of the Development of Gandhi’s Life Using Erikson’s Theory
Erik Erikson advanced a stage-based theory of development that explains the 8 stages of development of a person in the maturation process. The theory also asserts that each stage of development is accompanied by specific psychological struggles that influence the personality of an individual. As such, exterior forces such as social, religious and economic systems influence the interior emotional life of an individual and as such, individuals undergo ego modification and personality changes as one progresses from one development a stage to another. However, although the developmental stages are interdependent because of the influence that one stage has on another later stage, the psychological conflicts experienced in one developmental stage do not have to be resolved before one proceeds to the next stage (Agronin, 2013).
The first stage is the prenatal and infancy stage in which a child experiences a psychological conflict between trust and mistrust (Agronin, 2013). Gandhi was very close to his mother during his infancy as his father was a busy chief minister (diwan) and having to juggle his polygamous life (Barresi & Juckes, 1997). In this regard, he learnt trust from his mother as a primary caregiver. This can be derived first, from the cultural practices of a caste-based society in which a mother and her newly-born child were secluded from the society, including the immediate family, for 40 days, which shielded Gandhi from the many realities of his society and life (Mandelbaum, 1973). Indeed, such seclusion was meant to protect the child from the pollution of birth and contamination from the society such that the mother was meant to care for the child until deemed fit enough to interact with the society. As such, Gandhi may have developed a mistrust of others in his community apart from his mother. During this time, Gandhi was acculturated to being conscious in his nutrition, his movements and the people he touched to safeguard the status of the people he loved and especially his mother. However, he developed much trust for his mother and gained hope that things would be okay, particularly due to her high religiosity, which allowed him to base his trust in spirituality and therefore have hope as a member of his society. Altogether, the psychological conflict between trust and mistrust in him may not have been completely resolved because while he adhered to the nutritional values and practices instilled by his mother, he remained unaccepting of the caste system in which some members were termed as untouchables.
Early childhood also known as toddlerhood is the second development stage in which the child struggles between autonomy and shame/self doubt (Agronin, 2013). During this time, Gandhi was exposed to the caste-culture and the numerous sanctions place by his society on food. It is from these experiences that he learnt that untouchables and meat were dirty. Indeed, he was later in life to disapprove of the caste system while continuing to embrace vegetarianism strictly. These notions were instilled by his society and his mother especially, which denied him of the independence of thought as many aspects of his life were dictate by the society, culture and religion. As such, Gandhi may have experienced more doubt than autonomy at this age, which not only entrenched his psychological conflict but also fostered his willingness to seek out the truth and develop a strong will later in life.
The third developmental stage occurs at the beginning of middle childhood, usually between the ages of four and five, in which the child experiences psychological conflicts between initiative and guilt (Agronin, 2013). Gandhi is said to have had a high level of motor energy, which became evident from restlessness and ability to stay awake for long hours while working (Mandelbaum, 1973). Therefore, his restlessness saw him take up initiatives in thought and action to explore the deviations from the norm, usually exhibited by his questioning and even humoring some of the customary practices such as vegetarianism and the touching of the untouchables. It is during this time that Gandhi stated exploring his purpose in life.
The fourth developmental stage that also occurs towards the end of the middle childhood, which ranges between the ages of 6 and the onset of puberty, is characterized by the confusion between industry and inferiority (Agronin, 2013). In this regard, he developed an industrious character. His indulgence in books and general passivity are indicative of his quest for competence rather that a purpose in life because he was not only expected to a suitable colonial employee later in life but was also expected to advance the family name in governmental service once this father retired.
Adolescence as the fifth stage is often characterized by the psychological conflict between identity and role confusion (Agronin, 2013). This stage is markedly characterized by a search for the identity of the individual and the identity crisis it presents as one struggles with the different roles. Gandhi clearly experienced role confusion because of the different roles he had to play at this age, notably, being a husband, being a friend to young Muslim and being a caregiver to his ailing father. Each of these roles influenced his psychological development profoundly, which was largely in conformance to the society norms in his community at the time. For instance, he married at an early age of 13 and his perceptions of sex and intimacy were developed and established at this time. Although he believed that sex was for procreation and not physical enjoyment and adhered to the strict Hindu teaching, he lustful thoughts of his wife that he could not enact, which may have left him with guilt feelings (Alter, 1996). Besides, the extended times he spent away from his wife such as the separation from his wife in the first five years of marriage as his customs demanded, the years he spent in England, and the time he spent in south Africa diminished the opportunity to enact his lustful thoughts while helping him to adhere to his religious tenets as well. In the same vein, Gandhi has a compelling wish to dominate his wife, who was illiterate and sexually immature. Although he managed to convince her to let him go to England, he was prohibited to exert his domination directly due to his lengthy separation from her physically, despite loving her deeply. In addition, befriending Mehtab, who was a Muslim, was opposed by his family although he chose to maintain his friendship over giving in to the wishes of his family. During this friendship, Gandhi indulged in meat eating against his customs, suspected the sexual fidelity of his wife and therefore was tempted to indulge in prostitutes, a temptation he withstood, and even lied to his parents, an action he regretted and apologized to his father for in writing. Clearly, his friendship with Mehtab was riddled with experimentation and temptations to violate his beliefs, and Mehtab epitomized his negative identity, which was a source of intense psychological tension in Gandhi. Moreover, he spent considerable time nursing his ailing father as the only son in the family and the future carrier of the Gandhi family name. In all these occasions, Gandhi stood out as having fidelity to family and religious beliefs and values although he was unable to resolve completely his role confusion during this stage.
The sixth stage is emerging or young adulthood in which conflict is experienced between intimacy and isolation (Agronin, 2013). Considering that Gandhi entered into marriage early as was the custom of arranged marriages, he did not have an opportunity to foster an intimate sexual relationship with his wife especially because he spent most of his young adult life away from home. In this regard, his intimacy was impaired. However, his high regard from truthfulness (ahimsa) and the confessions of his lies to his father seemed to endear him closely to his father (Mandelbaum, 1073). In addition, nursing his father for most of the time after his accident and injuries until his death developed his connection to his father. However, these situations also fostered isolation because the love and high regard for his wife and father were usually not enacted regularly and as such, his intimacy was most of the times confined to his mind, thus worsening the intimacy/isolation conflict. Interestingly, Gandhi was able to transfer his love to the course of Indians in South Africa and in his home country India, which gave him a sense of belongingness and thus prevented him from experiencing profound loneliness. Evidently, the resolution of the conflict between intimacy and isolation was resolved in Gandhi through the love he projected toward higher spheres of human life such as spirituality, humility and self-preservation rather that worldly love for human affection and material wealth.
Adulthood marks the seventh developmental stage, which is demarcated by life from the age of 40 to about 64 years when old age sets in. The psychological conflict afflicting an individual at this age, is between generativity and stagnation (Agronin, 2013). At this stage of life, Gandhi had already defined himself and understood his strengths such that his focus had transcended beyond self and was directed towards the caring of other and future generations. Using his intense energy and originality, Gandhi was able to dedicate his time to inspire others towards a collective development of their ego. Specifically, Gandhi was able to transform the negative and weak identity of his country people, the Indians, into a collective positive identity marked by the use of hunger strikes and nonviolent protests to break away from the colonial rule by the British (Carducci, 2009). In this regard, Gandhi was able to overcome stagnation in him and look forward to a bright future for his fellow Indians that was free from the British colonization (Dalton, 2012). As such, Gandhi was able to demonstrate his care for others alongside sacrifice of self through the self-denial of necessities such as food and material things such as wealth (Barresi & Juckes, 1997).
Lastly, the eighth stage of development is late adulthood or old age stage and the conflict at this stage is between integrity and despair (Agronin, 2013). During his old age and particularly in his 77th and 78th years, Gandhi dedicated much of his active life pursuing the reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims in India, and particularly the Bengal region. Nonetheless, Gandhi led a secluded and humble life as he aged, which was marked with a dramatic self-denial and the consolidation of his beliefs through numerous reflective writings (Dalton, 2012). He appeared to have come to terms with the possibility of death and was proudly going through the aging process as he commanded a deity-like respect from his country people and others in the world. His inability to reconcile the religious differences in India that even led to the partitioning of the country into Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country and the rest of India which was predominantly Hindu was a cause of disappointment and regret for Gandhi, although it did not invoke despair (Dalton, 2012). From Erikson’s perspectives, Gandhi was able to document and share the wisdom he had accumulated throughout his, as demonstrated by his well acknowledged philosophies regarding various aspects of life such as economics, politics, and spirituality among others.
Effectiveness of Erikson’s Theory in Explaining Gandhi’s Psychological Development
Erikson’s theory is effective in explaining the psychological development of Gandhi at an early age but becomes difficult to apply in his adult life due to the unusual outcomes in his life. Specifically, the explanatory power of Erikson’s theory for the early stages of Gandhi’s life is evident in the demonstration of the psychological conflicts that Gandhi experienced and his ever-changing life trajectories. For instance, although Gandhi experienced psychological conflicts related to societal norms such as vegetarianism, sexuality suppression and the caste-system and even explored their violations, he was able to ingrain these beliefs deeply and continued to question them through the search for knowledge. Therefore, although Gandhi led a regular childhood by Indian cultural and socioeconomic standards the psychological conflict appeared to have been unresolved until much later in his life as illustrated by his steadfastness and focus of purpose.
However, Erikson’s theory provides a simplistic view of the adulthood of Gandhi and the psychological conflicts he experienced. The weakness of the theory is in its inability to explain why Gandhi made the choices he made in his adulthood considering that he found himself in challenging circumstances that brought in experiences that were different from those of his childhood. For instance, Erikson’s theory is not able to adequately explain Gandhi’s adolescence and young adulthood stages. Notably, although Gandhi developed a strong self-identity, it was often threatened by role confusion, which manifested in his adulthood. For instance, he was thrust into marriage life early and therefore had no opportunity to explore his sexual urges without the burden of being unfaithful to his wife. Indeed, he had many sexual fantasies and almost acted them out with prostitutes if it was not for his fear of lying.
In his young adulthood, Gandhi experienced both intimacy and isolation, and although he was able to sire children with one wife and remain with her without taking after the polygamous life of his father, he remained isolated and even became celibate to pursue his spiritual calling (Alter, 1996). In addition, he did not actively participate in parenting due to his lengthy absence from his family although he was a husband and father at a young age, and therefore it not clear how he overcame the intimacy/isolation conflict within the family setting. In fact, there is more evidence of social involvement and participation rather than that of his intimate and sexual relationships, which makes it difficult to apply Erikson’s theory at this stage. As such, it not clear whether Gandhi was ever able to resolve the intimacy/isolation conflict in Erikson’s terms. Contrastingly, the young adulthood of Gandhi was marked by self discovery and conflicting emotions about personal beliefs, which should have been resolved at an earlier age. For instance, his embarrassment about his vegetarianism while in England is an indication that his ego and self-identity were still under development and the British were important influencers. It is only after his vegetarianism was supported and validated did Gandhi feel strong enough to display it openly and even advocate it among his peers.
Erikson’s eight stages theory of psychological development provides insights into the psychological development of Mahatma Gandhi throughout his lifetime. The theory can be used to explain the psychological conflicts that Gandhi experienced at each developmental stage although it provides deeper insights for his childhood development as opposed to his development in adulthood. Gandhi did not have an ordinary life and therefore his psychological conflicts were not often resolved in the appropriate states, with some being left unresolved to later stages and some not at all. Yet, at the end, Gandhi comes out as an achieved and accomplished human being who managed to life a full life and self-actualize his aspirations.
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