One of the best skills all speakers must develop is the art of being quick, witty and polite. Without a doubt, one of the best ways to defuse conflict is with wisdom, wit, and humor. Wisdom comes with time. However, humor and wit take practice. Mahatma Gandhi was a leader who also used wisdom, humor, and wit effectively to defuse conflicts. He was a lawyer, activist, and politician who became the leader of the nationalist movement against the British rule of India. Here is an example of his wit, his wisdom, and his humor.
When Gandhi was studying law at the University College of London, a professor by the name of Peters disliked him intensely simply because Gandhi never lowered his head when addressing him as he expected. There were always “arguments” and confrontations.
One day Mr. Peters was having lunch at the University dining room when Gandhi came along with his tray and sat next to him. The professor said, “Mr. Gandhi, do you understand that a pig and a bird do not sit together to eat. “Gandhi looked at him as a parent would, to a rude child and calmly replied, “You do not have to worry, professor, I’ll fly away,” and Gandhi went and sat at another table.
Peters, red with rage, decided to take revenge on Gandhi’s next test paper, but Gandhi responded brilliantly to all questions. Unhappy and frustrated, Mr. Peters asked him the following question: “Mr. Gandhi ! if you were walking down the street and found a package. And within that package was a bag of wisdom, and another bag with a lot of money, which one would you take?
Without hesitating, Gandhi responded, “Why of course, the one with the money.” Mr. Peters, smiling sarcastically, said: “I, in your place, would have taken the wisdom.” Gandhi shrugged indifferently and responded, “Each one takes what he doesn’t have.”
Mr. Peters, by this time, was fit to be tied. So great was his anger, he wrote on Gandhi’s exam sheet the word “idiot” and handed it back to him. Gandhi took the exam sheet and sat down at his desk, trying hard to remain calm while he contemplated his next move. A few minutes later, Gandhi got up, went to the professor and said in a dignified but sarcastically polite tone “Mr. Peters, you autographed my sheet, but you did not give me the grade.”
It is my hope that the next time you find yourself dealing with a Mr. Peters, you too will remember Mahatma Gandhi who was the master of wit and wisdom.