On Taking Back ‘Be the Change You Wish to See in the World’

Sep 2, 2016

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

You’ve seen it everywhere – online, on posters, bumper stickers, movies, books, workshops… actually everywhere.

Most of the time, I hear this saying as a call to change/grow/heal our self and if we do so, the world will reflect what we’ve become. That rather than working to change our external reality, we should turn our energy inward. Some use this understanding to defend their apolitical stance.

We most often attribute this saying to Gandhi, but there is actually no record of him saying these exact words. The quote closest to “be the change” that anyone has found says this:

“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. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

From this quote, it seems that the statement Gandhi was making is that if we wish to see change in our world, we must make it happen. That waiting for the world to change will not do. That social change and personal transformation are tied together.

What I’m not seeing in this quote is the idea that changing your life alone is enough to change the world.

Gandhi was a revolutionary and the revolution did not only take place within.

Especially in the “West”, we tend to take what makes us feel most comfortable from the people and cultures we feel lead by. We sanitize it, make it shiny and leave the rest. This has happened in many ways with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen, Abraham Lincoln, the history and current reality of the United States, yoga, Indigenous peoples and practices, black culture and the list goes on.

When we take people, quotes, ways of being, ideas, etc. out of the context in which they live(d) and transform them for our own gain, they lose their lesson, meaning, value and power. And we don’t stop there – we go on to deny that the original context even exists so that we can justify our actions and come to terms with the cognitive dissonance we experience as a result.

This is what has happened with “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

(I’ve heard this quote my entire life and I didn’t know “be the change” was in response to Britain’s violent colonization of India until I was 17 years old.)

The truth is, when we heal and grow ourselves, our world does change – but the lasting change that our world so desperately needs will only happen if the familial, cultural and institutional systems that created our wounds are changed and transformed as well as the oppressive, dehumanizing beliefs we’ve internalized about ourselves and others. Otherwise, we’ll continue on in this cycle of recreating the very problem we’re healing from.

When we deny the context that our pain stems from, we restrict our healing and growth.

So what does this all mean?

I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that being the change is necessary and we must also lead the change we wish to see in the world. There is no ultimate right way, but there is a way that truly honors our humanity.

This is a call for us to find our way(s) as individuals and as a collective. To heal. To grow. To take action. To hold one another accountable and transform our communities and world together. To truly shine light on the darkness within ourselves and each other (the kind of light that reveals rather than blinds).

I believe that we can make change happen. Do you?

Hi! I’m Andréa – leadership coach, speaker and artist.

I help leaders create the cultures and futures they envision without sacrificing their integrity or wellbeing.

I approach Leadership Development and DEIB work with a compassionate, anti-oppressive and person-centered lens that allows us to weed out any barriers that are getting in the way of the sustainability or impact of your work while also developing vision-aligned skills and systems that will fortify your work.

Together, we make your vision actionable and achievable.

Curious about hiring me for private coaching, consulting, group training or a speaking event? Click here to book a call with me.