My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Little Pencil Story

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and director of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence in Memphis, TN, a non-government institute that teaches the philosophy of non-violence, tells this story of a formative lesson he learned while living in India with his grandfather...

The Little Pencil Story

We have to remember, when we talk about violence, it’s not just the physical violence that we see around us. There is much more to it than just physical violence. And grandfather made me aware of this one day when I was coming back from school and I had this little notebook, writing pad and a pencil. And I was about 13 years old at the time, quite an irresponsible 13 year old. Walking home absentmindedly I looked at the pencil. It was about 3 inches long, and I said I deserve a better pencil. This is too small for me to use. And I was so confident that grandfather would give me a new pencil that without a second thought, I threw that pencil away.

And that evening when I went and asked grandfather for a new pencil, instead of giving me one he subjected me to a lot of questions. He wanted to know what happened to the pencil I had in the morning, how did it become small, where did I throw it away, and on and on and on. And I couldn’t understand why he was making such a fuss over a little pencil until he told me to go out and look for it. And I said, “You must be joking! You don’t expect me to go out and look for a pencil in the dark?” He said, “Oh yes I do, and here’s a flashlight.” And he sent me out with the flashlight to look for this pencil and I must have spent two or three hours searching for it.

And when I finally found it and brought it to him he said, “Now I want you to sit here and learn two very important lessons… The first lesson is that even in the making of a simple thing like a pencil we use a lot of the world’s natural resources and when we throw them away we are throwing away the world’s natural resources and that is violence against nature. Lesson number two is that because in an affluent country we can afford to buy all these things in bulk, we over-consume the resources of the world. And because we over-consume them, we are depriving people elsewhere of these resources and they have to live in poverty. And that is violence against humanity.”

And that was the first time I realized all of these little things that we do every day. I mean just think about it... how many useful things we throw away every day because we have such a lot of it. How much food we throw away every day. How many good clothes we throw away because we have new ones. All of this, every time we throw away something and waste something, is violence.

I originally found this story in January 2007 on the web site of the Spiral Diner & Bakery, an all vegan, mostly organic, environmentally-friendly restaurant in Ft. Worth, TX. It made me think of a Yankee maxim that my New England grandparents and father often quoted...

Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do,
Do without.

I think Mahatma Gandhi would have agreed. :-)


  1. I adore this story! <3 I'm going to have to email it to everyone. How true it is. Thank you so much for sharing it, Laurie!

  2. La,

    Great story! Thank you so much for sharing it. It really does put things we all do into context.

    BTW, we used your peanut butter trick. I blogged about it today. Thank you so much for sharing it. We are completely sold. I will be using the technique you shared from now on.


  3. Thank for sharing the story Laurie. It's very true.

    I love how you related it to the old dad used to say the same to us...only he would say just the last two lines: "Make due or due without" that and "Waste not want not", were anthems of my childhood.

  4. Molly - You're so welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed it so much, and are passing it along! I thought it was a good and true reminder, so sweetly told! :-)

    Ali - I'm glad you enjoyed it as well! :-) And thank you for your great post about the peanut butter trick! Well done! :-)

    Rose - Sounds like our dads were cut from the same bolt of cloth! It took me a while to appreciate how good their advice (and Gandhi's) is, and how gratifying it can be when we live by it.

    Thank you for your lovely comments, I'm so happy you all enjoyed this story! :-)

  5. I haven't got a unique comment to add but I wanted you to know that I enjoyed it (the little pencil story) and the quote from your dad very much. It makes me want to do much better and think about what i throw away! I could be doing much better and I'll thinking about it now!

  6. Hey, Jo! Thank you for taking the time to leave your comment and let me know you enjoyed the story and the quote. They both serve as good "mindfulness boosters" for me, helping me catch myself when I get inattentive (like tossing something in the trash that should be composted, or letting the faucet run when it doesn't need to!) So it's nice they've inspired you and will be serving you in that way as well! :-)

  7. Laloofah -- the Little Pencil Story should be read by teachers in their classrooms. It is a great example of what we as humans are doing to Mother Earth. -- barbara

  8. Barbara - Good idea! And yes it is.

    According to my SiteMeter I get a lot of people from all over the world finding this page through searches for variations of "Gandhi pencil story." Maybe they're all teachers looking for it to read to their students! :-)

  9. Very nice story. We have to save natural resources. Mahatma Gandhi taught us many such small small things in our life


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  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"

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