An eye for an eye …. I stand corrected

I was a bit late in dropping my daughter off for school, so I wasn’t able to escape without being caught in the hallways, listening to the national anthem, and then the grade six students reading the morning announcements.

As I was making my way out the front door, I heard the school’s quote of the day and it stopped me in my tracks.

Mohatma Gandhi
Courtesy: Wikimedia

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind,” read the eager twelve year old over the PA system.

It was her next sentence that stopped me in my tracks.

“That quote is from Ben Kingsley.”

“Seriously,” I said aloud, muttering something under my breath about Millennial teachers and a general lack of historical awareness. I thought to myself: “Doesn’t everyone know it was Mahatma Gandhi who said that?”

I pulled out my iPhone to consult Google in hopes of proving my point. I had every intention of walking into the office as the latest in a long line of self-righteous North Toronto parents, determined to set the record straight.

Then I realized “The kid was right.”

It is, of course, based on Exodus 21:24 “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” But according to the website Quote Investigator, there’s no proof Gandhi actually ever said that modified phrase. It quotes Fred R. Shapiro, the editor of the Yale Book of Quotations as saying while the Gandhi family believes the quote is authentic, no example of him actually uttering it has ever been discovered. According to the website:

…an important biographer of Gandhi, Louis Fischer, used a version of the expression when he wrote about Gandi’s approach to conflict. However, Fischer did not attribute the saying to Gandhi in his description of the leader’s life. Instead, Fisher used the expression himself as part of his explanation of Gandhi’s philosophy.

It goes on to argue that a misreading of that biography has lead many people to directly attribute the saying to the Indian leader. That point is reinforced in the 1982 Oscar-winning biopic Gandhi, when there is a scene where Ben Kingsley does turn to a close political ally and says:

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”


So yes, it is accurate to attribute that quote to Sir Ben Kingsley (or perhaps more appropriately, screenwriter John Briley.)

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