Tuesday, March 28

“I cannot break my vow. I cannot argue about it."
— Mahatma Gandhi



Today’s Excerpt:

When is it hard to be honest?

Honesty is a muscle you develop by staying true to your inner voice. The more you develop this muscle, the freer you are to overcome difficult challenges. Read the following story about Gandhi and a vow he makes:

Mahatma Gandhi was raised in a family of devoted Hindus who never ate meat. When he was a young teenager, some of his friends persuaded him to eat meat to get stronger. For a year, he ate meat in secret, hiding his actions from his parents. Eventually, he felt like he could no longer keep the lie alive and gave it up.

Years later, Gandhi passed a difficult exam and had the exciting chance to go to college in England. However, Gandhi’s mom was worried about the idea, knowing that people in England regularly ate meat and thought nothing of it.

To soothe her worries, Gandhi took a vow to not eat meat in England. He told his mom, “I shall not lie to you,” and left India. When he arrived in England, his classmates relentlessly tried to get him to break his vow, telling him that eating meat would make him healthier. One guy brought it up again and again, asking, “What is the value of a vow made before an illiterate mother, and in ignorance of conditions here? … It is pure superstition to stick to such a promise.” This classmate continually mocked Gandhi and put him in situations where he would be more likely to break his vow.

Finally, Gandhi felt he had no choice but to forcefully tell his friend, “I cannot break my vow. I cannot argue about it. I am sure I cannot meet you in argument. But please give me up as foolish or obstinate. I appreciate your love for me and I know you to be my well-wisher. I also know that you are telling me again and again about this because you feel for me. But I am helpless. A vow is a vow. It cannot be broken.”

The experience might seem trivial, but it played a foundational role in Gandhi’s life. It built Gandhi’s ability to stick with something even in the face of ridicule and discomfort and freed him from having to manage a web of lies to his mother later on. By staying honest with his mother and to what he calls his “inner voice,” Gandhi built the muscle of saying what he believed, which recurred writ large in his activism for an independent India free of the burden of Great Britain later in his life.


  • Reflect on a time you did or did not stay true to your inner compass. What does it feel like to recall that experience now?
  • Have you ever been dishonest because it felt like the kind thing to do?
  • Do you think Gandhi has more or less freedom because of the choice he made?