Saturday, February 19, 2011

Be The Change

Some time ago I came across a quotation from Mahatma Gandhi that challenged me more than anything has in many years.  It was, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.”  Gradually, I have discovered that the true depth of this statement tends to be obscured by its simplicity and that to truly comprehend it requires more than a casual acknowledgement.  As I was pondering this concept, I encountered a statement by Martin Luther King who was a devout admirer of Gandhi and modeled his civil rights efforts upon Gandhi’s concept of non-violent civil disobedience.   As part of King's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize which he received in 1964, he said, “I refuse to accept that the isness of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal oughtness that forever confronts him.”

Suddenly I found myself confronted by two outstanding martyrs staring me in the face and lovingly but firmly saying, “Pick up a glove and get in the game. Change is possible, and you need to be part of it.”  This is not something I wanted to hear.  I like sitting in the bleachers, yelling at the umpires, deriding the players, and commiserating with my fellow cynics about how the game is being played.  I don’t want to have to work out and get in shape or play the game in a way that I might be observed and thereby judged by others.  Can’t I just sit on the sideline and critique everybody else?  Well, the answer to that was a deafening, “NO!”

This sounds like an overwhelming task.  The world is so big and there is so much that needs to be changed, and on the grand scheme of things, I am quite insignificant.   Yet upon further examination, the call is not to change the world.  It is to be the change I want to see in the world.  What does that mean?  To me, there are three aspects involved.  First, I had to ask myself what kind of people would I like to see inhabiting this planet.  Second, how would those characteristics influence their behavior?  Finally, what changes need to take place in my life in order to manifest those characteristics and behaviors?

So, I began my list.  I would like people to be honest, kind, compassionate, loving, generous, hard working, content to live simply with no need for accumulating wealth, tolerant of diverse opinions, having a deep sense of connection with others and a willingness to sacrifice for the common good.  These traits would be evident in their daily lives.  They would work cooperatively, care for the weak, act lovingly towards one another and find ways to contribute to their communities.

It doesn’t take too long thinking along these lines before these lists start to sound familiar.  These are the kind of virtues we find extolled in the scriptures of almost all of the major religions of the world.  What I find fascinating is that these prescriptions for harmonious human interaction have been presented as preparation for spiritual objectives and not as a means of improving our existence here on earth.

In fact, much of traditional religious teachings have more to do with avoiding spiritual consequences than effecting change.  In Judaism, the focus is on obtaining God’s blessing and avoiding His punishments in this present world.  In Hinduism the primary effort is to become enlightened in order to avoid being reincarnated.  Similarly, Buddhists seek enlightenment in order to avoid both rebirth and suffering in this present world.  Meanwhile, Christians and Muslims are trying to reach heaven and avoid hell.

With all of this focus on getting out of here, it is a wonder that religion has contributed anything to this present world, but it has.  Thankfully, in more recent years adherents seem to be increasingly aware of the obvious:  if we become more God-like, then the kingdom of God will become increasingly evident here and now.  What if that was the original intention of the inspirations, but the message has been misconstrued over the years?  What if Jesus meant exactly what he said when he said, “The kingdom of God is within you”?  What if we merely need to begin living it?

Certainly Gautama Buddha and Jesus are two of the primary archetypes for leading the way to selfless service.  In their shadow we find people like Anthony Benezet, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Thich Nhat Hanh and countless others.  However, recently a friend shared an account of an event that occurred in a local hospice facility.  It reaffirmed my conviction that, although we need inspired leaders to promote positive social change, true change will occur among the masses as we embrace the message on a broad scale and interact one-on-one.

In the local hospice house, a Muslim man was nearing death.  There was no Muslim cleric available to minister to him.  So, the female Jewish Chaplin took an English translation of Muslim prayers, sat by his bed and began to read them to him.  In response, he lifted his hands toward heaven and began repeating the prayers in Arabic.  This is truly what it means to become the change we want to see in the world.

I would love to think that I am at the forefront of this approach, but that would be pure fantasy.  As I began working on this posting, I googled “be the change,” and to my amazement and delight I discovered that there is an organization called Be The Change, Inc.  Its mission is to promote policy development that will bring about significant social changes on a global scale.  One of its campaigns has been Service Nation, which is federal legislation that was enacted in April, 2009.  Its focus is to promote citizen involvement in problem-solving social issues at the grassroots level.  One of its extremely ambitious goals is to make service an integral part of American culture.  It is hard for me to place a great deal of confidence in anything that the government initiates; however, this certainly seems to be headed in a positive direction.

I find theology, philosophy and science fascinating, but I would hate to discover one day that while I was pondering the eternal and speculating on theories of cosmic origin, others were busy nurturing an environment that would promote our progression towards the omega point.  I have identified what I need to become.  I just need to seek ways to manifest it in my life.  Being the change instead of waiting for the change to occur is how the present isness of my nature will become the eternal oughtness that ever confronts me.


  1. What if we feel we are incapable of being that change?

  2. My question involving high level goals such as this one is, where do we begin? It's easy to get frustrated with such things in mind without having some kind of practical and feasible approach towards what we hope to accomplish. Can you recommend some small building block components with short term achievable goals that can lead down this path towards the overall lifestyle mentioned?

  3. Regarding our ability to be the change, we need to keep in mind that this is a process. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” And, it begins from wherever you are at any given moment. Inasmuch as we are all in different locations and at varying points in our personal journeys, I will share my own approach, and you will have to apply it to your individual situations.

    As I indicated in the blog, envisioning what kind of person I would be in an ideal world is the first step. Specifically, what qualities would I have? Then, I need to honestly determine where I am lacking, and finally, begin mindfully implementing progressive positive changes.

    For me, a clear area is a tendency to be critical of others. I came by this naturally from my father who had very little use for others because they never met his exacting opinions about how they should be. I am not as bad as he was, but at 19 a group of friends gave me the sync of the year award. In the future, I would like people to be totally accepting of others. Consequently, when I see my critical self appear, I check those thoughts and replace them with loving thoughts toward that person. As I practice this approach, I find it gets easier and easier, and the critical thoughts are not as common or intense.

    Another area for me is learning to focus on the needs of others. I have always had a tendency to be helpful, but it was most often exhibited through my physical assistance; i.e. shoveling snow for neighbors, helping senior citizens with various projects, volunteering for agencies. I still do those kinds of things, but have also started helping people financially here and there. I almost never give money to panhandlers, but I am very aware of people who are struggling in this current economy and do what I can to ease their efforts. I would like to think that mankind will eventually learn that we do not need as many possessions but need to share the resources available to us. So, that is what I am attempting to do.

    I recently discovered a book that really helps in this process of thinking about the future I would like to see. It was written by Leo Tolstoy as his personal daily devotional. The short title is “The Calendar of Wisdom.” It is a collection of sacred writings from around the world and throughout time up until 1900. It has really cut down on my efforts to search for wisdom. He was a lot smarter than I am and did a great job of putting this together.
    Finally, I give myself permission not to be perfect. I am striving for progression towards various personal changes and do not expect to “arrive.” at my ideal self in this lifetime. If I do, then my perfection would probably prevent me from recognizing it.

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  5. I am doing a project this year called a morality project, based on something I read that Ben Franklin did. It is explained and updated every week in my facebook notes.!/profile.php?id=100000725134769&sk=notes Now that I think about it, this is me attempting to "be the change". I admit that at times I am overwhelmed and therefor discouraged at all the change that is needed in the world and particularly in my life. This is a practical attempt to effect that change in my life, understanding the concept of progress not perfection.

  6. Joey, I was just thinking this too.. your project is a great example of a component of change that is practical and quantifiable, and most importantly achievable. Your goal isn't to become a perfect individual, but is to grow, and you've come up with a way to break that down into what you feel are important areas of focus, each with a specific time frame for practice and examination. In other words, you are practicing to be a better person. I've been watching as you've been moving through this, and if nothing else, the weekly reflections are a good statement of increased awareness and growth, but I know there has been a whole lot more to it than just that. The sense of accomplishment, with each week's reflection, I'm sure, also means a lot towards helping to motivate you moving forward. I just have to say it's very inspiring to see you taking initiative on something like this in order to better your life and your impact on the lives around you (including mine).

  7. thanks, while it is always best to believe in one's self, a little help from others can be a great blessing..

  8. Joey, I really enjoyed your Facebook entries. I think one of the most important gifts God has given to mankind is the written word. Certainly you have discovered a marvelous treasure through Ben Franklin’s brilliantly simple process. It is so wonderful to share the blessings of insights from hundreds or thousands of years ago. I am going to follow your example and start my own morality project. It is a terrific way to clearly identify what it means to be the change and actually see how you’re progressing.

  9. Joey, I think I might start a project this week, too. I'm well overdue for an awareness exercise and need a way to push out of spiritual stagnation. This might be the ticket. I think I'll just use the same topics for focus, so far it seems to have been effective based on your results (though I think I'll go with 13, like Ben did. and add Exercise/diet as the 13th (or 1st) topic). Check back with me on this. I need some accountability.