THE BLOG
07/09/2013 04:31 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2013

Mandela and Gandhi: Calling for a Coalition of Conscience

It was an odd parable, said to be part of an African country's tradition. Two men were sleeping out in the bush. One woke up in the pitch black, hearing a noise. "What's up? Are you all right," he asked his companion. "Be quiet," the companion answered, "the hyena is eating my leg."

The scene was the wrap up plenary for a four day meeting on just governance at Caux, high on a mountain in Switzerland above Lake Leman. The mike was passed so people could reflect on what should happen after the conference ended. It took the audience some time to absorb the speaker's hyena story, but when the message sank in, heads nodded. He was talking about corruption, and his odd metaphor spoke to several shared sentiments: the acute pain people feel about the rampant corruption that seems to be everywhere, their sense of evil at work, its obvious damage and the mortal wounds it inflicts, and the paralyzing fear that can prevent people from speaking and acting to do something about it even when it bites.

Scenes from the massive demonstrations in Egypt were very present in the backdrop, as this meeting vacillated between despair and hope. Despair was epitomized in the odd hyena tale: the sense that powerful and evil forces have a grip on power in the world, despite remarkable popular uprisings and personal stories of courage. Hope was reflected in a keen sense of moral purpose and the determination of very different people, working in their communities and institutions.

Caux is the historic home of Initiatives of Change, an organization that used to be called Moral Rearmament. Self reflection and taking responsibility for one's actions are part of the "sauce" of their work. The origins (in the 1930s) were very Protestant but over time the "spirit of Caux" has become much broader, so that its religious origins are glimpsed only fleetingly. The people who gathered at Caux to discuss governance last week came from many backgrounds, and many religious traditions, but I sensed in everyone I met there a basic faith in humanity and a determination to do something to make the world a better place and, in this instance, to make sure that the hyena of corruption is named and acknowledge and stopped.

Rajmohan Gandhi was at Caux. A historian and activist, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and a wise and gentle giant of a man, he served as a past president of Initiatives of Change and exemplifies what is best in its legacy and spirit. I found him more sober than on earlier occasions when we have spoken. What troubles him most is the rampant instances of financial misconduct and sex scandals that erupt every day, everywhere. He bemoaned the fact that even in the worthiest causes and among worthy people there is jealousy and infighting that stymies the efforts. People seem to have forgotten the art of compromise. The hopeful start of anti-corruption efforts in India seems to have fizzled, the victim of infighting and jealousies. Promising movement in the Middle East and on Palestine and Israel seems hopefully stalled.

But in the final session at Caux on July 3, Rajmohan Gandhi spoke with a hopeful tone and message. He saluted the courage of those working, in South Sudan, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Mali, and many other troubled parts of the world. They are moving mountains with their faith and dedication. And he invoked the inspirational examples of two great heroes of our time: Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.

Mandela, he noted, is giving us an example even in what may be his final struggle. And a fundamental message that his life tells is: Never give up. Mandela is not giving up now in the struggle for life. This is something Mandela personifies, the courage to persist.

Mandela's humor and humanity are also inspirational. We need both humanity and humor to come together with a common cause and purpose and ideal.

Mandela has shown an extraordinary capacity to turn enemies into allies. He is a man for all the people. And his spirit can support all of us. Like Gandhi, Mandela belongs to humanity.

Rajmohan Gandhi's call was for a coalition of conscience, one inspired both by the examples of remarkable people like Mandela and Gandhi but also by the daily courage of those who raise their voices (even when the hyena bites), who show the way, who persist, and who find ways to work across boundaries of nation, race, religion, and political views for the common good.