You must be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi
This quote bugs me. The feeling can only be equated to the way I hate how much I like Coldplay music. It’s too simple, too cliche, overplayed, overused, and yet, still undeniably good. And now that it’s too late to hide my cheesy taste in music and quotes, this specific quote from Gandhi has taken on new meaning for me recently (even though I have known this quote for many years).
I like to think of myself as an “idea guy,” a “dreamer”. I can’t stop thinking about the endless creative possibilities that can exist. Add my big mouth, my impatient, impulsive behavior and you have yourself an immature “kid”. You have a person constantly needing reminders that life isn’t about him (even though I think I have good intentions).
Work has been very stressful recently. I work for a public institution that, like many others, are overwhelmed, overworked, underpaid, understaffed, and always criticized. And while I know we can do better, I am proud of the people that I work alongside and blessed to work with the people we serve. But knowing we can do better gets at me. I want to exhaust every option before I accept “No”, “We just can’t”. I want to know why. While most of the times I keep the “kid” in check, there have been rare occasions where I lose control. At work the “kid” comes in the form of unwanted ideas and suggestions. My co-worker (and good friend) pointed out that at times, even though I want to help, even though I may be right, some of my suggestions are unwanted. I want to change things around me. I sometimes want to change others. Shouldn’t I be focusing on my own life? It hit me hard. Do I make suggestions and provide ideas on how to help my own life? Do I like when others do this to me? Do I have my ish all figured out?
And the more I thought about this, the more the hits kept coming.
I realized that I’ve done this too my best friend. I’ll tell him what I like or don’t like about his music before being asked. I’ve done this to my brothers. I’ll tell them what I think they can do to start their businesses, to be more healthy, to improve on their lives. I do this with Michelle (we do this to each other). I’ve probably done this with some of you (sorry). I try to fix, to solve, to suggest, try to make the world a better place, but really, instead of focusing so much attention outward, I only need to look inward to see the things that need fixing.
A couple of years ago, Michelle and I went to hear Shaine Claiborne (Author of one of our favorite books – Irresistible Revolution) and his friend talk about living in community. A random guy asked them during Q&A about what he and his wife could do to serve an impoverished community that they just moved into. The response from Shaine’s friend surprised me: “Work on your marriage,” he said. “Have a really good marriage and you will see how your marriage serves the people in your community,” he added. Start inward, work outward. Want a better marriage or relationship with others? Start inward. Work on yourself.
It’s only when I truly embrace this concept of “Be the Change” does the “kid” get humbled to see how messed up his own life is, how much he still can learn. It’s only through this kind of humility that we can truly be in relationship with others. Otherwise we are just bullies, people who act fake or think they have their ish together. If people want your advice, they’ll ask for it. If they don’t want your advice, giving it to them won’t change their mind any way.
It reminds me of folks’ online comments after every news article (go to any news site and after every article read the ridiculousness). It’s easy to hide behind an anonymous name and bash on others or put out suggestions thinking that you know what’s right for everyone. If most of these people (myself included) just focused on the stuff we need to work out in our lives, the world would probably be a better place. No one knows yourself better than you. No one can make changes for your life better than you.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world” are probably more appropriate lyrics than Coldplays’ “I will try….to fix you” (Which of course is still one of my favorite songs).