Updated: Dec 3, 2020
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” You’ve probably heard this quote, often falsely attributed to Gandhi, and had one of various possible reactions to it. Maybe you felt empowered knowing that changing your actions could cause chain reactions with limitless potential. Or perhaps you felt daunted because the change you wish for is too huge to ever bring about on your own. Maybe you even felt a little angry at how this statement reduces complex world problems to an individual responsibility to simply “be” the solution, masking all the difficult work required. All of these reactions are appropriate because the quote doesn’t tell us anything about how to be the change, which is what we really want to know.
Gandhi never actually spoke these words, as far as we know. What he did say about change, however, illustrates the complexity in the various reactions above. Personal transformation may be necessary for social change, but it is not enough. We also need to work together, sometimes in massive ways, to change the world. Over a course of writings, I will introduce a framework that connects the work we do as individuals to the broader social change we seek, and the unavoidable need to find effective ways to work together. The good news is there is so much we can do ourselves, today, to get started. We don’t need to wait for anyone else. And as we transform ourselves, we will naturally connect with others to accomplish larger goals.
We have to remember that this ‘work’ we do on ourselves to become better people is not work in the typical sense. It’s the steps we take to create our most meaningful lives. It’s all the ways we discover who we are and how to be with others in the best possible way. So, it’s the “work” of living our best life: it’s always the right time to start and we never finish. There is always more to learn, new ways to grow, and deeper levels of satisfaction to experience. Eventually, we see that this work is nothing more than how to live the most enjoyable and satisfying life.
At the same time, we will investigate how this inner work always involves other people, and how we need others to make change real and permanent. Changing our thoughts is not the same as changing our actions. We truly transform ourselves only when we begin to act differently, to treat others differently. Sometimes, we will only be able to do this if others are willing to change with us. As a whole, a community can change only when enough people are willing to change how they treat each other. Therefore, the ways we change ourselves may be ways we change together, for your change and mine may be connected. This type of community transformation is far more powerful than the individual kind, because it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. That’s why we have communities; together we are capable of so much more.
First, we’ll look at how individual practices like meditation can bring inner freedom — a pervading inner peace and clarity in life — while also radically changing how we treat others. Conversely, we’ll see how supporting others in their growth can further our own. By forging bonds of community, we improve our lives beyond what we could ever achieve alone. I’ll continue to tie all of this to the work we need to do collectively to solve the largest social problems we face: from inequality, to racial justice, to protecting the environment.
The reason all of these can be achieved together comes down to one fundamental truth: we are deeply interconnected beings living in an interdependent world. We are shaped by history and the world around us, and at the same time, we have the power to shape ourselves and our future. We have to grasp this at a deep level — in all its seemingly contradictory complexity — to know who we really are and how to be the change we wish to see in the world.
Join me on this journey of self-understanding so that we can, together, reach the highest potential for ourselves and all humanity.
drawing by isabel gryschka