How One Quote Can Change Your Life

There is a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi that changed the way I interact with people, helped me improve my personal and business relationships, and ultimately changed my life for the better. The quote goes something like this (I am actually paraphrasing it, since different sources have worded the quote in different ways):

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

I admit that I cannot possibly hope to do this quote justice within the confines of this blog, due to obvious space and time constraints, but also due to the fact that the statement is immeasurably deep in its wisdom and unparalleled in its potential value to society. However, I am certain that if more people implemented this principle in their lives, we would have better relationships, we could reduce crime, violence, and hatred, and we would see more people getting involved in causes that mean something to them. And I believe these people would, in turn, contribute more positively to the world and be more likely to help others around them, which would then continue this virtuous cycle.

While this is still a work in progress for me, and while I certainly do not always live by this principle, after several weeks of close introspection, I was able to start being a catalyst for change at work, at home, in my community, and wherever else I happen to be at any given time. And I can speak from experience that being a catalyst for change will likely require you to take the first step toward achieving that change. It is admittedly difficult for many people to take that step forward, since it sometimes may require them to go against the grain and potentially do something unpopular, or even slightly controversial. But one thing is for sure – while doing nothing about a given situation may result in the situation eventually getting resolved, there are certain situations in life that would get resolved much more positively if we took the time, effort, and courage to go first and demonstrate that positive change starts with each individual.

Let’s consider the following scenarios as examples of this quote in action:

Do you see certain people around you working so much that it affects their health and/or family life? Then make sure to strike a balance between your personal and professional life, and not only will your family appreciate you even more, but your body and mind will reward you with improved performance.

Do you know anyone, perhaps a friend or colleague, who is constantly embroiled in negative thinking that ends up hanging dark clouds over their words and actions? Then make sure to not get stuck in negative thought patterns yourself, and in each challenging situation you encounter in your life, focus on the positives and opportunities to learn.

Have you found yourself in situations in which people around you were very impatient and thus caused others to become anxious or nervous? Then make sure to be patient, and lead by example.

Do you see people close to you fighting and bickering vociferously, for what seems like no good reason? Then make sure to avoid jumping into the fray, and instead try to look for a win-win situation. One thing is for sure – if you take sides, or even worse, stoke the flames by letting yourself get carried away by the very emotional nature of such conflicts, you lose a golden opportunity to practice the principle of being the change that you want to see in the world. Additionally, on a practical level, the fight you were hoping to resolve will more than likely be no closer to a resolution, and in fact, may become even more unstable.

The last two examples in particular illustrate the old adage by the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius: it is not very fruitful to tell someone that they are wrong; rather, we should show them the right way. But one could even apply this principle literally – how many companies, movements, or new technologies have been started by a person, or a group of people, who were fed up with something in the world and decided to change it? Organizations like the International Red Cross and individuals such as Tim Berners-Lee come to mind. One could even include more recent examples, such as the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong.

However, one does not have to start an organization or invent a new technology in order to bring about positive change in the world. The best way to start changing the world is by starting to change yourself, in situations such as the ones described above. And while I admit that my examples above could be considered simplistic, sometimes common, everyday examples such as those are all it takes for us to realize that the first step toward a better world is changing ourselves. And the best way to change ourselves is to consider common, real-life examples like the ones above, since we could, at times, be among those people who overwork at the expense of their health and/or family life, who fight needlessly with one another, and whose relationships need mending.

So, to get started, with everything you do or even everything you think, ask yourself, “Am I being the change that I want to see in my life, and the world?” In the beginning, you will have to take a magnifying glass or even a microscope to your daily thoughts and actions, and see where you are putting your attention and focus. Otherwise, from my personal experience as well as observing countless others, it’s right back to the negativity, chaos, and hatred that plays a large role in many people’s lives.

But if you remain committed to practicing that quote by Gandhi and do your best to see yourself and your actions as contributing to how the world develops, you will most certainly experience better results in many facets of your life. I can personally say that this statement has single-handedly helped make my life more positive, improved my relationships and interactions with other people, and even helped me become more successful in my career.

Remember…you must be the change you want to see in the world!

Help Yourself by Helping Others

“Why should I help others?” I recently heard someone say. Now, that may come across as somewhat cold and callous, but in order to not take this person’s statement out of context, let me just say that he was under a tremendous mental strain at the time as a result of having gone through some rather massive personal problems.

This can happen to even the best of us. That is, when we are embroiled in our own personal struggles, we often fail to recognize the plight of others. It then becomes much more difficult to empathize with other people, and going out of our way to give someone a hand is just about the last thing on our minds, because we are really focused on putting out our own personal fires.

But what I have noticed is that even in times of tranquility, many people don’t really understand why they should help others. From a very young age, we are told that giving aid to those in need is the right thing to do, but we are seldom given any concrete reasons why it is the right thing to do. It is quite obvious that when we help someone, they benefit from our assistance. But this explanation fails to address a very human sentiment: “What’s in it for me?” That’s precisely what this article is about, because many people haven’t really internalized why they should help others and haven’t quite grasped the many benefits it would bring to both themselves and to the world.

So the question I’d like to answer today is, why is helping other people a good thing? Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, how does it benefit you? Believe it or not, many people are unaware of how they may profit from assisting others. So in today’s blog entry I will explain why helping others can be a huge boon to us, by giving clear and practical reasons.

Before I do that, however, let me share with you a quote from a book I recently re-read, which really inspired me. Rather than paraphrasing, I’ll repeat the words of the philosopher Seneca himself, from a passage in Letters from a Stoic:

“All mankind are stretching out their hands to you on every side. Lives that have been ruined, lives that are on the way to ruin are appealing for some help; it is to you that they look for hope and assistance. They are begging you to extricate them from this awful vortex, to show them in their doubt and disarray the shining torch of truth.”

While it may seem obvious to some of us that we can help ourselves by helping others, it’s all too easy to get caught up in a mindset that says that we live in a dog-eat-dog world, where we must sink or swim, and where we must only look out for ourselves. And while I will admit that it is in our nature as humans to look out for ourselves first (after all, if we don’t, we risk the prospect of annihilation), we may also look out for other people, in many cases, at no harm to ourselves.

What I am saying is that oftentimes we can help others without losing anything in the process; in fact, we more often than not gain something when we help someone. There are three reasons that come to mind right away.

On a very basic level, we genuinely feel good about helping other people. That’s part of being human. We tend to feel better about ourselves when we see that someone else’s life has been improved as a result of something we did for them.

Recently, while going up the escalator in a subway station in Shanghai, I saw a woman trying to carry a very heavy bag down the stairs by herself with great difficulty. Fortunately, a man quickly came to assist her, and she thanked him profusely. I cannot imagine that the man did not feel better about himself after that. And as we well know, feeling good about oneself adds to one’s quality of life. Similarly, you will lose nothing if you decide to help a neighbor’s child with his or her homework, or carry some items for an elderly person who is unable to. In fact, you will likely feel better about yourself, since that person progressed as a result of that act of kindness you performed.

Furthermore, when you help someone, you are contributing more goodness to the world. I am not trying to make you believe in karma or trying to inject some new age spiritualism into you. What I am saying is that when you perform acts of kindness, there is a sort of goodwill that spreads as a result of those actions. How so? Because a person that you assist will no doubt enjoy the fact that they achieved a certain goal, no matter how trivial it may seem, and you will likely enjoy having helped them reach that goal. And thus, in the end, both of you walk away with a sense of accomplishment.

On a larger scale, imagine a city whose inhabitants are the victims of violent crimes or frequent acts of fraud, and where there is a general feeling of danger and distrust. They are, generally speaking, going to be less trusting of other people and are going to be more likely to move through life with fear, anxiety, and sadness. This kind of environment does not offer as many opportunities for people to feel happy about the content of their daily experience, and in turn leads to a lower quality of life.

Now, imagine a city whose inhabitants are frequently on the receiving end of acts of kindness. Imagine that these people do not have to constantly worry about their own safety, and are confident that their lives will, for the most part, be full of fruitful opportunities and satisfying social interactions. By saying this, I don’t mean to imply that any location is perfect, or that we should try to create a utopia on Earth. There will be problems no matter where one lives, and this is irrespective of one’s ethnicity, financial situation, and other such factors. Human beings are not perfect, and we are all bound to make mistakes from time to time. But why shouldn’t we do our best to contribute as much goodness as possible to the lives of our fellow human beings, especially considering that we benefit directly from it? I can’t think of a single person I know who wouldn’t prefer to live in a safer, kinder, and happier world.

One of the reasons that we have so much pain and suffering in the world is because we inflict pain and suffering upon each other. Murder, rape, assault, and other heinous crimes only add more evil to the world, and in turn destroy opportunities to create a happier, livelier, and more prosperous society. So every time you perform a good deed and assist someone in need, you are contributing to a better world in the process, and are reducing the amount of pain and suffering. And this directly benefits you.

Before we move on to the next point, let me clarify something. By helping others, I don’t mean that you should make sacrifices so great that you harm your own well-being in the process. For example, I am not saying that you should give your life savings away to a charitable organization and become penniless in the process. What I’m talking about is acts of kindness, whether of the random variety or not. I am talking about doing small, simple things for other people that don’t even require much effort on your part. These “small” deeds combined create a tremendous amount of benevolence in the world. If everyone focused on performing a few good deeds every week, how much better would the world be?

Even the most cynical person will have to admit that helping other people brings us great benefits. If nothing else, when you assist someone, they often feel obligated to return the favor at some point. While there is no guarantee that they will do something nice for you, more often than not, they feel like they must do something kind in return.

Therefore, when you help someone, they may very well return the favor to you at some point in the future. Even a stranger that you assist may become a valuable person to you in the future. There are countless examples of someone befriending a person that they helped, and vice versa.

So, this week, why not set a goal of helping one person per day? That’s seven people in seven days. Don’t worry about whether the assistance you give seems big or small, just focus on helping that person. Give your seat on the train to an elderly person. Make a little bit more food than usual for dinner and give the rest to someone else. Donate an old jacket that you don’t need any more to a charitable organization. Volunteer at an after-school program. The possibilities are endless. And one thing is for sure – as you start performing these acts of kindness, you will see your quality of life improve in a way you never thought was possible.