Jawaharlal Nehru's Speech: Not 'Holier than Thou'

By Jawaharlal Nehru

From reply to debate on International Affairs, Lok Sabha, November 20, 1956

Sometimes people accuse us and say, “Oh, you are trying to be very superior, or trying to be, as the phrase goes, ‘holier than thou’.” We know very well our imperfections and the imperfections are greater than those of other countries. If we do not realize this fact, we shall never grow. There are other countries spiritually greater than ours in many ways, and we may be so in some ways too. But I do not like this idea, if I may say so with all respect, of sitting complacently and thinking that we are spiritually greater, even though materially we are not. If we really grow spiritually, material things do not matter. It is because we are not spiritually great, in the real sense of the word, that we look in others for something which we condemn or criticize.

We sometimes venture to express our opinion. Why? For two reasons : first, we think that it is the right of every country, as of every individual, to express its opinion, and out of the welter of ideas truth sometimes emerges. Secondly, we are so placed—and that is a virtue which we possess—that we are not consumed with hatred of this country or that. If a country is consumed with hatred and fear, then its mind is clogged. It cannot think straight. I say with all respect that in the United States there is no clear thinking about Russia just as there is no clear thinking in Russia about the United States, because the minds of both are clogged with indignation, with fear and hatred of each other. I have not the shadow of a doubt that if they come to know each other more—it does not matter whether they agree or not and they probably will not agree about many things—hatred and misconceptions will go and they will realize one thing more than anything else, namely, that the other country, whatever it is, however wrong it may be in its opinion, is a living entity, a growing entity, has something new and worthwhile that has to be studied. That is the important thing. That is why we have always sought to encourage contacts and mutual understanding.

So far as we are concerned in India, we have had this advantage that we can approach other countries in a friendly way. Whether we agree with them or not is a matter which is secondary. Because we can approach them in a friendly and receptive way, we can profit by that contact and approach. At any rate, we remove the barriers of prejudice. The greatest danger which the world is facing is the cold war. The cold war creates a bigger mental barrier than brick walls or iron curtains do. It creates barriers of the mind which prevent the understanding of the other person’s position, which divide the world into devils and angels. We can take it that all of us have something angelic in us, something divine in us, but also that we have a good deal of the Satan in us. Whether we are a country or an individual, we should try out the good in ourselves and take the good from others and thereby suppress the evil aspects.

Now, I claim this as a virtue for us, for our country, for this Parliament and for our people. We are not obsessed by fear. We are not obsessed by hatred of any country. We are not obsessed even by the dislike of any other country. Our minds are a little more receptive than those of others—communists, anti-communists or socialists. I do think that is a virtue in us and it is in the good democratic tradition. When that goes, it is bad for the world. 

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