“What Do You Think of Western Civilization?” “I Think It Would Be a Good Idea”

Mohandas Gandhi? Apocryphal?

Gandhi01Dear Quote Investigator: Mahatma Gandhi is credited with a brilliantly acerbic remark made in response to a question from a self-satisfied journalist:

Journalist: What do you think of Western civilization?
Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any solid citations for this sharp exchange. The best I have located is second-hand information in the 1970s. Is there any good support for this quote?

Quote Investigator: Mohandas Gandhi died in 1948, and the earliest evidence QI has located appeared many years later in January 1967. The Seattle Times newspaper stated that the exchange was mentioned in a television documentary on a major U.S. network: 1

Quote of the week from the superb C.B.S. documentary, “The Italians”: Mahatma Gandhi, on being asked, “What do you think of Western civilization?,” was reported to have answered, “I think it would be a good idea”.

According to the website of the Paley Center for Media the documentary “The Italians” was broadcast as a CBS News Special on January 17, 1967. The program was adapted from a book, and the author acted as the host: 2

A documentary freely adapted from Luigi Barzini’s book “The Italians.” Barzini presides over a selective tour of Italy, discussing the Italian people, their culture, customs, and history.

In September 1967 the dialog was disseminated in the mass-circulation periodical Reader’s Digest. The words were once again connected to a documentary on CBS: 3

MOHANDAS GANDHI was once asked: “What do you think of Western civilization?” “I think it would be a good idea,” he replied.
— CBS News Special, “The Italians”

Here are additional selected citations and commentary.

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Notes:

  1. 1967 January 23, Seattle Times, “Ad Paid Off For Swedish Beauty” by C. J. Skreen, Quote Page 6, Column 7, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  2. The Paley Center for Media website, Webpage on documentary: CBS News Special: The Italians (TV), Broadcast Date: January 17, 1967 Tuesday 10:00 PM, Running Time: 1:00:00, Color/B&W: Color, Executive Producer: Perry Wolff, Producer: Bernard Birnbaum, Adapted by: Luigi Barzini. (Accessed paleycenter.org on April 23, 2013) link
  3. 1967 September, Reader’s Digest, Answer Men, (Set of five miscellaneous quotations), Page 52, Volume 91, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on microfilm)

The Customer is Not an Interruption in Our Work; He Is the Purpose of It

Mohandas Gandhi? L. L. Bean? Kenneth B. Elliott? Great Western Fuel Company? Ray Noyes? Paul T. Babson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular business motto that is used by corporate departments of Customer Relations and Human Resources:

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.

I have seen these words attributed to the New England businessman Leon Leonwood Bean (L. L. Bean) and Mahatma Gandhi. Did Gandhi have a secret life as a business/motivational consultant? Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest attributions currently known to Mohandas Gandhi appeared in the 1970s. Since Gandhi died in 1948 these attributions are very late, and they do not provide compelling evidence. Top quotation expert Ralph Keyes writing in “The Quote Verifier” grouped the saying together with other items that have been ascribed to Gandhi with inadequate supporting evidence [QVGN].

There are many versions of this passage, and it has been evolving for decades. The earliest instance known to QI appeared in 1941 in “Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers”. The magazine published an interview with Kenneth B. Elliott who was the Vice President in Charge of Sales for The Studebaker Corporation, an automobile company. Elliott ended the interview by stating the following set of five principles which he may have formulated. Alternatively, he may have been repeating pre-existing principles [KEPI]:

It is, of course, not possible to state with any practical exactitude what the customer is. But there are several common denominators to be found when we consider the customer in terms of what he is not. These things, I think, are fundamental to intelligent customer relationship and, it may be added, most of them apply pretty well to the vast majority of prospects as well.

1. The customer is not dependent upon us—we are dependent upon him.

2. The customer is not an interruption of our work—he is the purpose of it.

3. The customer is not a rank outsider to our business—he is a part of it.

4. The customer is not a statistic—he is a flesh-and-blood human being completely equipped with biases, prejudices, emotions, pulse, blood chemistry and possibly a deficiency of certain vitamins.

5. The customer is not someone to argue with or match wits against—he is a person who brings us his wants. If we have sufficient imagination we will endeavor to handle them profitably to him and to ourselves.

A variety of companies reprinted and embraced the principles, e.g., the Morris Plan Bank of Virginia in April 1943 and the Great Western Fuel Company in June 1943. In 1944 a version was attributed to Ray Noyes. In 1946 a version was credited to Paul T. Babson of Standard & Poor’s Corporation. In 1955 a version was ascribed to Leon Leonwood Bean of L. L. Bean. By 1970 a version was being attributed to Mohandas Gandhi. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind

Mohandas Gandhi? Louis Fischer? Henry Powell Spring? Martin Luther King?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mohandas Gandhi’s policy of non-violence was famously used during the campaign for independence in India.  There is a well-known quotation that helps to express the rationale for this non-retaliatory philosophy:

An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind.

I have read that Gandhi spoke this statement or something similar, but I haven’t yet found a precise citation for this. Could you find out when and where Gandhi said this?

Quote Investigator: One of the world’s top quotation experts, Fred R. Shapiro editor of the Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ), has examined this question. This is what the YBQ says [YQG]:

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” is frequently attributed to M. K. Gandhi. The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence states that the Gandhi family believes it is an authentic Gandhi quotation, but no example of its use by the Indian leader has ever been discovered.

The YBQ notes that an important biographer of Gandhi, Louis Fischer, used a version of the expression when he wrote about Gandhi’s approach to conflict. However, Fischer did not attribute the saying to Gandhi in his description of the leader’s life. Instead, Fischer used the expression himself as part of his explanation of Gandhi’s philosophy. QI thinks some readers may have been confused and may have decided to directly attribute the saying to Gandhi based on a misreading of Fischer’s works.

The epigram is a twist on a famous Biblical injunction in the Book of Exodus [21:24]: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. These words appear in the King James English translation. There is a more elaborate version of the clever maxim based on these two phrases:

An eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth would lead to a world of the blind and toothless.

QI has located relevant variants for this longer expression in 1914 and 1944. Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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