The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. –Mahatma Gandhi
I was at a party last year, telling friends that I was excited about a class I was taking. After lots of “good for you” and “wow, that’s great” comments, someone asked what the class was called. I proudly said, “How to Change the World.” There was laughter. Eye rolling. Even a little snickering. And then someone said–out loud– “You really think YOU can change the world?”
Yes, I do.
I can change the world because I believe in the ripple effect. What change I want must start with me. It takes real action to create change. It takes steps…
1. Change yourself.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Holding onto negative thoughts like anger and jealousy, keep us from fully engaging in the real work of creating change in the world. When we change ourselves, let forgiveness, compassion and positive thinking take hold, it opens us up to all kinds of possibilities. The world around us changes because we radiate positive energy! Honestly, so often it is our own ego that gets in the way of changing the world. So many of us think that we are “not enough” or that someone else is “better than” us. What if we decided that we are enough and that comparing ourselves to others only leads to more problems and conflicts– what if we could shake those feelings off?
2. You are in control.
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”
That whole comparison thing we do eats away at our potential for happiness and real difference making. You can choose to dwell on negative feelings or wishes that your life was different. You have control over these thoughts. What if you choose to think of yourself in a more positive way? What if your own thoughts, ideas and actions mattered the most to you? What if you could look in the mirror and say, “I matter.”
3. Forgive and let it go. “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Have you ever wanted someone else to hurt as much as you have been hurt? Fighting evil with evil won’t help anyone. Hurt is hurt, no matter what. I remember when Malala Yousafzai was asked about seeking revenge on the men who shot her… “I’ve always been a daydreamer, and sometimes in lessons my mind would drift and I’d imagine that on the way home a terrorist might jump out and shoot me on those steps. I wondered what I would do. Maybe I’d take off my shoes and hit him, but then I’d think if I did that there would be no difference between me and a terrorist. It would be better to plead, ‘OK, shoot me, but first listen to me. What you are doing is wrong. I’m not against you personally, I just want every girl to go to school.” You can always choose how to react to something. Forgiveness can open us up to endless possibilities to move forward. Living with negative memories won’t help; you’ll probably just cause yourself more suffering which will keep you from taking action to heal the world. 4. Without action you aren’t going anywhere. “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” I have this amazing friend who is a Priestess. The thing that makes her so amazing is that she not only preaches, literally, but she also PRACTICES. Every. Single. Day. And the thing that makes her beyond amazing is that she actually practices by the ounce! People are always saying “What can I do, I’m just one person, one vote, one insignificant voice.” I see people posting on Facebook daily about things that stir their souls, break their hearts, anger their sense of justice. I’ve done it myself. I read articles and books on social injustice and I post, post, post. When I realized that posts were being “liked” and no action was being taken, I thought more about what my goals were. My Priestess friend preaches about concrete actions that can be taken and takes them herself. Sometimes they are small actions. Sometimes they are huge! An ounce here, a pound there… it adds up to a whole lot of good work getting done.
I took that class, “How to Change the World” and read and studied issues facing the world. The best part of each week’s class came when the professor said, “Okay, so now you have read about the issue and studied it in depth. Now, what are you going to do about it?”
It’s so easy to say that we’re doing our bit to change the world by “raising awareness.” And yes, awareness needs to be raised! AND then what? I think that to really create change, to understand yourself and your world, you need to practice. Books, articles, workshops, classes can mostly just bring you knowledge. You have to take action and translate that knowledge into understanding and results. Ounce by ounce.
5. Everyone is human.
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
Remember that thing about not “being enough” or someone else being “better than”? This being human thing means that each of us has strengths and weaknesses. There’s such a tendency to elevate others to some mythical status of perfection. When we put others on pedestals it automatically makes us lower, or less, and creates a lack of connection between us. What if we could believe that each of us has value? What if we accepted that we all are human? What if we knew that being human means making mistakes and having successes? What if I could celebrate you AND celebrate me, recognizing that we are different in many ways and commonly human no matter what? Instead of beating yourself up over mistakes that you have made, look with a bit of clarity where you went wrong and what you can learn from your mistake, with no comparison to others. And then try again.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Be persistent. Find what you really like to do, what you feel compelled to do, what you want really do. Then you’ll find the inner motivation to keep going, going and going. When we know ourselves and trust that we are absolutely enough– the next step is persistence. Real change in the world will come when we persist in our work. Many times, when the self-doubt and inner sabotaging sets in, I have been tempted to give up. These are the moments when it’s vital to dig deeper. There aren’t magic wands or quick fixes to the world’s greatest challenges… it takes work. It takes rolling up the sleeves, getting sweaty and dirty, opening up our hearts and minds and making the commitment to persist. After a while you will not be ignored. You will not be laughed at. You will not be fought. Because your persistence will have opened someone else’s heart and mind and they will join you, in their own way.
7. See the good in people and help them.
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”
Growing up my mom would often tell me that there was always something good in everyone. I absolutely believe that in my heart. People have rolled their eyes over that conviction many times throughout my life and some have even gone so far as to try to prove it wrong. Human rights atrocities around the world can really mess with this belief I continue to hold. When I focus on the bad it seems too big to change. By shifting my focus to the good it becomes easier to motivate myself and others to be of service. By being of service to other people, by acknowledging their value, seeing the good in them, you make their lives better and your own. In time, the people you help may feel more inclined to help other people. Together we can create an upward spiral of positive change that grows and becomes stronger. What if we lived each day with kindness and respect? What if we focused on the good in people?
8. Be authentic; be your true self.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
So this is the big one. We live in this Facebook world now, where what we put out to the world is what we want the world to see. Some people are full of love and hope. Some people want others to see the bad stuff. Some people want to showcase themselves. Some people share things that lift them up, or bring them down, or twist them around. The point is, does your “Facebook world” reflect who you really are? Is your Facebook world authentic? If you can’t sleep at night because you’re worried about the unethical treatment of animals or the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls, are you finding ways to take action? Are you walking the walk, not just talking the talk? People really like authentic communication. And there is much inner enjoyment to be found when your thoughts, words and actions are aligned. You feel powerful and good about yourself. Then the most amazing thing happens! Your VOICE is heard. People will be motivated to do more than press the “like” button. They will listen to what you’re saying. You are communicating without mixed messages or perhaps a sort of phoniness. When your actions aren’t in alignment with what you’re communicating you start to hurt your own belief in what you can do and other people’s belief in you too. Let your voice be truly heard!
9. Continue to grow and evolve.
”Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”
A good friend of mine in college was a serious Conservative– swimming alone in a sea of very vocal Liberals. Knowing him changed my life. He challenged me daily, and himself. He was there to grow. He was there to listen and evolve. By sharing our differences we discovered our similarities. Though we had opposing belief systems, we stayed open minded and curious and were able to learn more about ourselves and the world. We helped each other see that there is more than one way, one position. In a fast-changing world it’s important to keep taking in new information. It’s also vital that we understand that each of us is important to the work of changing the world. I want to share the job with you. We are capable of so much. I starts right here, right now, with me, with you.
So, you want to change the world? What steps will you take?