In times of distress, personal or nationwide, it can be easier for us to judge and put the burden to change on the shoulders of others. We tend to forget that the greatest challenge in affecting change has less to do with what is outside of us and has everything to do with what is inside of us.
Many people have quoted Gandhi as saying, “You must be the change you want to see in the world,” when, in fact, what he said was much more profound. Gandhi said, “We but mirror the world. 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.”
So what does Gandhi mean here? I’ve thought a lot about it. I think he means if we want a more peaceful world, we have to strive for peace within.
When you look at the world around you, what do you want to change? Do you want politicians to be more honest and to work more transparently? Then first, consider how you may be more truthful with the people in your life and how you may encourage more truthfulness from them as well.
Do you want your ideas and beliefs to be acknowledged and respected? Then first, consider how you may acknowledge and respect the ideas and beliefs of others.
Do you want to feel heard? Then first, listen.
If it is true that we are mirrors and in changing ourselves we change the world, then we have a
serious responsibility to look inward and to take stock of what’s really in there. Imagine that you find yourself sitting in unexpected traffic and that you are reacting angrily. In letting your anger overtake you, are you not the traffic? Are you not anger itself?
On the other hand, imagine that you find yourself in unexpected traffic and that you are reacting calmly and choose to use this pause in your day to listen to your favorite songs. In doing so, are you not the music? Are you not calm itself?
If Gandhi is right, if we mirror the world, then we don’t see the world for what it is. We see the world for how we are.