Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Because Gandhi-ji’s was a life that defined karma yoga, it is often assumed that by saying this, the great activist was advocating the outward mission to change any aspect of our world that we dislike. Their is some truth to this. To some degree we are all called to make sure that when we finish our life on earth, that it is a better place than it was when we arrived. Outwardly. We can change the world through our actions. We can build something that was not there as a part of our world before we put it there. But people – people are stubborn. In many ways conquering the desires and the sheer will of others is a prospect more daunting than humanity’s endeavor to conquer outer space. But even this, changing people’s minds, is not the final frontier.
The only way to be sure that we are making any major shift in consciousness, attitude, and activity in the world is by changing oneself. You know, before we can take a splinter out of another’s eye we need to remove a tree-trunk from our own eye, or whatever. That is our destiny. That is the only way to create true change. But often we don’t do it, because it is hard. It’s much easier to tell others that their perspective is flawed. We think it is the only way toward progress. But in reality it is the best way to assure that nothing ever gets done.
We cannot change every heart and every mind. Everyone has a vision of the meaning of life, many times a vision that they hold to be inalienable truth. Often there is no use trying to change people’s minds. When Gandhi-ji said “be the change” he was calling for the same thing that countless religious figures implored their followers to do. Change themselves. Be the change. Literally change our being. Change our level of consciousness. By example, lead this world to its greater good.
I am often disturbed by political “conversations” often held on message boards on the internet, wherein a person of one political ideology presents his case, followed by rebuttals by representatives of one or more opposing ideologies, which more often than not ends up atrophying into personal insults. It does not solve the problem, whatever it may be. Often no plausible solution is even presented. It is just various people of various viewpoints squaring off, posturing for approval of like-minded people, trolling for some kind of semblance of correctness. But it does not accomplish anything. Often it only cultivates more misunderstanding and therefore more separation on said issue.
This pointless charade is played out particularly prevalently in the year leading up to elections in the United States, and probably all countries. Sure it is our duty in a democracy to call our leaders out when they are not doing right by us, the citizenry. The problem is that many of us have decided on a stance, either left wing or right wing and will take the required position on any issue in order to maintain the correctness of our chosen ideology. But we never change anyone’s mind. We just argue. In arguing, we will never provide our adversary an example to which they can aspire.
What is it in human nature that makes us so sure that the idea of changing the world by changing ourselves first is mere naive idealism? For that matter, why is idealism always painted as naive? Why do we get so dogmatic about so many things, yet consider this very universal commandment to be unrealistic? If you were on an airplane that was going to crash, you’d be commanded to secure your own air mask before attempting to help others. And that makes sense. The same principle is at work in the Great Within.