Mahatma Gandhi, was able to listen even to his enemies instead of getting angry. The late Ramkrishna Bajaj, the Indian industrialist who as a young man had worked as “Gandhi’s coolie,” as he wryly put it in the title of his autobiography) told me a story about Gandhi. One of his followers, Dr. Manibhai Desai, had been a militant anarchist in India’s underground movement as a young man and knew India’s jails from the inside. Later, however, he came to embrace Gandhi’s nonviolent ways. From 1942 onward, Desai served as Gandhi’s assistant and for a while was in charge of answering all the letters that came to the independence leader. And since there were virtually no telephones in India and no email for decades to come, Gandhi received an enormous amount of mail – including heaps of hate mail.
Desai feared that the vengeful letters would only distract Gandhi from his mission of nonviolence, and decided to shield his leader from all the negativity. He hid the bad letters and quietly answered them himself. But Gandhi must have smelled that something was amiss. One day he gently prodded Desai, “I seem to be getting only nice letters lately. Where are the critical ones?” Blushing slightly, Desai admitted that he had kept the hate mail from Gandhi. He was never to forget Gandhi’s answer until he died in 1993. “I need the negative letters,” said the great leader. “My critics are my best friends – they show me what I have still to learn.”