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!