Michael Jackson’s song, Man in the Mirror, got stuck in my head:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change
It’s clear: If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change. I know of nearly no one taking this advice. Everyone instead chooses to live by something like: if you want to make the world a better place, complain about what governments, corporations, and billionaires do and say what you do doesn’t matter, so keep doing what causes the problem.
I can understand dismissing Michael Jackson’s advice on changing the world. He entertained and thrilled the world, but didn’t lead to much social change. I think people would like to dance and sing like him, but not live his life.
Gandhi, on the other hand, I think everyone respects the change he created. He liberated a nation that, until him, everyone saw as a colony too weak to compete with its imperial ruler. As you know, he showed nonviolent resistance with less physical force but greater appeal to more of the world’s sense of right and wrong could persuade the colonizer to leave. He led hundreds of millions of people.
We all know the phrase attributed to him:
Be the change you want to see in the world.
According to Quote Investigator, we have no record of him saying those words, but did write a similar sentiment:
All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.
Still, if people believed he said “Be the change you want to see in the world,” in their minds, if they aren’t being the change they want to see in the world, they are dismissing Gandhi’s advice.
Why dismiss his advice? Do they think they know better? Do they think, “well, maybe in his situation he could make a difference, but this situation is too hard, what I do won’t matter?” Do they think it was nice advice but impractical?
I could give a pat answer: they’re addicted and that’s their addiction speaking, but that answer leaves out the specific thoughts and emotions. Knowing them could help people overcome their despair, feelings of futility, and all the internal conflict that comes from living contrary to one’s values.
I think they think something like
I’m happy and comfortable living as I am. Changing will decrease my comfort without a meaningful chance of changing the world enough to gain back the comfort I lose.
Those thoughts still leave out the rejection of Gandhi. What comes to mind when faced with his advice? I’d guess something like
That advice sounds nice, but it wouldn’t work here. I need to fly, eat meat, buy an SUV, and so on.
I don’t think they think they’re right. I think they just rationalize the behavior they want, like Jonathan Haidt’s rider on the elephant.
Why not try?
Why not try being the change you want to see in the world? Why not try living sustainably? I don’t mean going without straws for a week or meatless Mondays, except as a starting point, but setting a goal to pollute less than the Earth’s natural processes can regenerate? At least try.
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