“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mohandas Gandhi
Gandhi’s statement speaks more truth than we often realize. He speaks a basic and often unrecognized principle: when we change ourselves, in a very real way we change the world around us.
It follows that if we want to change the world around us, we need to look first within ourselves; there is where change begins. If we want a kinder world, we start by being kind. If we want a more peaceful world, we start by becoming more peaceable. If we want less racism in the world, we need to confront the racism resident in ourselves. As we change, we become agents of change.
To experience this try a simple experiment: commit to a full day of practicing random acts of kindness. Smile at strangers. Say hello to people you usually walk by. Hold doors open for people. Treat somebody to lunch. Let someone get ahead of you in line. Then the next day commit to random acts of unkindness. Don’t smile. Scowl a bit. Complain to whoever will listen. Let the door close on the person behind you. Complain to strangers about how slow the line is moving, and how poorly the cashier is at his or her job. Get angry at the stupidity of other drivers. Notice what happens and how you feel each day. Notice how people react to you and around you. I am very willing to bet your experience on those two days will be very different. The world around you will be different.
Richard Rohr, a writer on Christian spirituality, addresses this in his book The Naked Now. He writes about this approach to change: “We mend and renew the world by strengthening inside ourselves what we seek outside ourselves, and not by demanding it of others or trying to force it on others.”
He also provides some examples of what that might involve:
* If you want others to be more loving, choose to love first.
* If you want a reconciled outer world, reconcile your inner world.
* If you are working for peace out there, create it inside as well.
* If you notice other people’s irritability, let go of your own.
* If you wish to find some outer stillness, find it within yourself.
* If you find yourself resenting the faults of others, stop resenting your own.
* If you want a more just world, start by being just in small ways yourself.
* If your situation feels hopeless, honor the one spot of hope inside you.
* If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will see God beyond you.
(Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Crossroad Publishing, 2009. 160-1.)
Jesus taught the same lesson to his disciples, and to all who follow him in every age:
“Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back…. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” – Jesus, Luke 6:37, 38, 45
What we give out somehow manages to return. He taught that those who are merciful, practice kindness, extend compassion, live generous lives, who do not find it necessary to strike back, who bless and do not curse, will both reflect the nature of God into the world, and even though they will experience difficulties, will ultimately discover that what they have given to others will be poured back to them. He taught that we act out of the condition of our hearts, and called on us to have the kind of heart that reflects the very love of God.
What does all of this mean? I think it means that our inner lives, our character, the state of our souls, the well being of our spirits, are tremendously important. It shapes our lives and our experience. It makes a major difference to those around us. It makes a tremendous difference to the character of our communities. Angry, spiritually immature, reactive people will create unhealthy and unhappy families and communities. In the same way healthy, mature, gracious people generate healthier places to live.
We give such extraordinary attention to the things around us, how much we earn, what kind of cars we purchase, what kind of smart phone we use, where we go on vacation. Are we willing to give that kind of attention to what lies within us? To becoming better, wiser, more mature people?
If we want to lead happier lives, or to live in a more loving family or community, we need to nurture the capacity for happiness and for love within us. It really is that direct.
Gandhi is right. If we want to change the world, we do need to become the change we want to see.