Being the Change: What Does it Take?

Jan 18, 2011 by

Being the Change: What Does it Take?

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

The quote has become one that is almost a cookie cutter quote for almost every positive thinking path in the world, I think. I can’t count how many magnets, bumper stickers and websites I’ve seen it adorning in the past few years. It’s one that I think gets seen so often, though, that it’s possible we don’t even really think about what it means anymore.

How often do you look at other countries, other places in the world, and the way they live their lives and think, “If only they’d be more like us, then they would…?” (and while I’m an American, and I know we’re guilty of this, I’m betting a lot of other countries look at America and think that about us, too–if only we were more like you…so, this goes for all of us, no matter where you are from)

How often do you stare across the political aisle and wish the other party would change their minds and see things the way your political party does?  Can’t they see how wrong they are about health care? About immigration? About gun control? (and yes, this goes for everyone, too. I don’t care which side you’re on right now–just if you’ve wished the other side would see it your way)

How many times do you find yourself looking at the person in your office who aggravates you the most and just wished they would open up their eyes and get their head out of the dark place they’ve shoved it and get a clue?

How many times has a friend done something to hurt you, and you’ve lashed out, and wondered how they could be so cruel?

How many times have you stared at your parents, or your child, or your husband, or boyfriend, or girlfriend, or wife, and wondered how on earth this person you loved could do something so insensitive, or something so unkind, or keep doing something that drives you so very insane?

Or from a seemingly positive standpoint–how many times have you seen a loved one doing something, or making a choice, that you know is all wrong for them, and yet nothing you say can dissuade them, and you know it’s going to end in heartbreak, but they won’t listen and why won’t they just listen to you? Why can’t the see things like you do?

Why won’t they just change?

You aren’t asking much, right?  You don’t want all of this for selfish reasons. You’re not trying to rule the world, or acting out of greed or a desire to hurt anyone.  In fact, you want to help.  You want to make the world a better place.  You want to help the poor and end war and make sure that the oppressed are able to walk in the freedom you enjoy.  You want your friends and family to be happy and you can see all these little things that are polluting the world and their lives and they need to change–other countries, other parties, other people.

But the thing is…you can’t change other people.

All those other people, other parties, other countries–they’re looking back at you probably wishing the same thing.  We’re all so caught up in wishing that other people would change that no one’s focused on the one thing they can change which is themselves.

I’m not saying that we don’t focus on changing ourselves at all, of course. You wouldn’t be here reading if you weren’t interested in changing your life for the better. We all work on improving our lives in lots of ways.  But one that I’ve noticed in my own life, and in those of my friends and family, is that it’s really hard to focus on change in our interactions with people.

I can’t change the friends who chose to break off ties with me, who lied to me, hurt me and suddenly seemed to shift into people I’d never known.  I can try to communicate with them, but when it devolves into a blame cycle that makes no sense and is never-ending…I can’t change them. I can’t make them listen to me. All I can do is listen to them, and apologize for anything I may have done to hurt them, and try to learn to be a better friend from the experience.  If their attitudes do not change, and their behavior does not change…I can do nothing about it but move on with what I have learned. I can change me, but not them.

I couldn’t change my ex-husband and the fact that he kept cheating on me and lying to me. I could suggest we go to counseling. I could try to save our marriage. I could look at what I might have done to make him unhappy, but I couldn’t change him. I couldn’t make him care about the marriage, or want to save it. I couldn’t make him love me.  And I can’t change him into a man who honors his obligations now, as much as I would like to. He has to make that choice and change. I can only strive to be a woman who honors her commitments, who chooses to forgive, who does not let bitterness poison future relationships.

I can’t change the political beliefs of my family. It doesn’t do any good to poison our otherwise very good relationship with debate that ends up in argument. It hurts me sometimes to hear things they say, though, and that I can change. I can change me, and my reaction to them. I can choose to love them through it and choose not to bring up contentious issues when I know that I will get sucked in to trying to persuade them to change their minds.  I can’t make them do that. They will or they won’t. I can, instead, choose to live from a place of love and a place where I show my beliefs through my actions, and offer my reasons when asked, but not where I try to make them change.

Because I am the only thing I can change.

How can I judge someone for being too judgmental? Isn’t that just circular and doing the same thing to them I think they’re doing to others?

How can I be upset when people think their way is the only way when I think mine is a “better” way? Would I be upset with them if they agreed with me? Isn’t that just as dogmatic in the end?

So what can I do?

I can listen more.

I can love more unconditionally.

I can accept people where they are, even if I don’t agree with them.

I can choose to respond with loving words, not argumentative ones.

I can stop kvetching so much about how much those “other people” annoy me, even to sympathetic friends.

I can give up my need to be “right.”

Because the change I want to see in the world is one of a world that is more loving, more accepting of people who are different. I want to see a world where we all can come together in peace and fellowship, where it doesn’t matter who you love or what name you give God or what flag you fly, but what you’ve been through and what you have to give and what you choose to share in this world. I want to see a world where we all work together to take care of those less fortunate, to see that no child goes hungry or without an excellent education. A world where we can sit down and discuss our differences and learn from each other instead of drawing arms on or spewing hateful words at one another.

So, if that’s the change I want to see in the world, then that’s the change I need to be in the world. A person who doesn’t try to force friends and loved ones into changes they aren’t ready for in their lives. A person who listens to other viewpoints, who accepts people where they are in their lives and walks through this world. A person who loves people just as they are, even when I don’t agree with them. A person who doesn’t try to force my beliefs on someone else, but strives to learn from theirs. A person who doesn’t think her way is the only way.

I’m just one person, but I’m the only person I can change. I can’t change you. I can’t change my friends and family. I can’t make my country change, and I can’t make the world change.

But I can be the change I want to see, and that’s my big goal for this year. Beyond all the actionable ones, beyond the business and fitness and creative ones, that’s my over-arching goal for this year: To truly be the change I want to see in this world.

What change do you want to be?

Photo credit: Pedrosimoes on Flickr

Related Posts

Share This

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge