… on being the change


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Being the change.

I’m big on it.

My kids all know I am.

It was a big theme for them growing up.

“Being the change” is shorthand here for the quote you have seen, like, a kajillion times on magnets and coffee cups and t-shirts and Pinterest and it is attributed to Gandhi.  Mahatma Gandhi in particular. We do a lot of quoting for behavioral direction’s sake around here.  Be the change, be the turtle (slow and steady)… it goes on and on.

But, as with many quotes attributed to famous thinkers and be-ers, it probably isn’t a direct quote. The New York Times published an opinion piece in 2011 about misquotes from famous humans.  The author began, a bit pissy-ish, about seeing a coffee mug with the Thoreau quote about going confidently in the direction of your dreams. He, the author, said there was – gasp – an exclamation point on the mug and he was certain Thoreau did not use a lot of exclamation points.  I remember reading that part of the piece and thinking the author had to be an academic (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – and I checked and he was – and I thought, ‘Huh. He is so focused on the nuance of punctuation that he is missing the point’.

And not the exclamation point.

But he went on to explore the Gandhi quote and noted that Gandhi may have never actually said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Then the author said, “Displayed brightly on the back of a Prius, it suggests that your responsibilities begin and end with your own behavior. It’s apolitical, and a little smug.”



At first I bristled.

I thought that was a smug comment in and of itself.  But then I thought, oh poor him, because maybe he was projecting.  So I read on.

The author said he found a quote that might have been what the ‘Be the change’ quote was based on and it is 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.”

Which I think is a pretty good quote also.  But then the Times Guy goes on to say that there is no suggestion that Gandhi is saying that personal change is enough and Gandhi knew that one person could never change the world and blah blah blah blah-dy blah.

Again, missing the point.

Like, according to me.

So back to Gandhi and being the change.

I love the idea.

I don’t care if it is exactly quoted.

I don’t even care if he exactly meant what I think of when I hear the quote.

I don’t.

Because here is what I see in that quote.


Like, the verb.

Not angrily screaming about the change you wish to see in the world.

Not carrying a sign indicating the change you wish to see in the world.

Not tweeting or Facebook posting or Instagraming or Pinterest re-pinning a quote about the change you wish to see in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, you can do all of those things, but they mean nothing – absolutely nothing…

If you aren’t willing to Be.

Actions, baby.

They will kick Words’ asses every time.

Best to keep both in sync.

Makes for a happier, well-balanced human.

Trust your sense of right and wrong.

Good and bad.

Considering participating in negative stuff, manipulating, presenting a false version of yourself… pooping on someone’s happy because you’re not?


Consider and think, respect and love, and hope and faith your way toward being you. Your true you.

And make you a good one.

Don’t forget to balance dreams (yours and others) and responsibilities (to yourself and others).

And kick around a whole lot of other stuff that feels right and good to you.

And then Be.

Out loud.

In the big picture, and the smaller picture of every day – from taking the time to congratulate your dog for not stealing the turkey you left too close to the edge of the countertop, to letting the harried-looking mother of a screaming toddler ahead of you in line (even when you yourself are late), to not participating in the cynicism at the office.

Being the change means trying – we all have bad days or weeks, or months or years even,  where being good in and to the world is hard – but it means trying to be the way you would love to see the world being (while avoiding feeling superior or judge-y because others might not see the world as you do).  It’s beyond the Golden Rule and turning the other cheek.

It’s honesty and work ethic.  It’s conduct and empathy. It’s in the loving, and friend-ing, and neighbor-ing, and citizen-ing within your town and the world.

It’s being comfortable in expressing your joys (whether at the idea of World Peace or fireflies) and sorrows (whether due to grief or a flat tire).

It’s in the acceptance that human frailties, vulnerabilities, and overall blemishes can inspire people to act poorly… and the faith that one person, behaving in a better way, can light the path forward for one or all.

‘Being the change’ won’t be the same for me, as it is for you.

It won’t be the same for each of my kids, as it is for me.

But trying to do good…

To behave in a way that lifts others up, rather than discourages or makes them feel limited (or small)…

That’s it.

That’s my interpretation.

Sure, my kids might fail an official college course on what Mahatma Gandhi said (and what he didn’t), and what he meant along the way.

But fluck it.

They’ll get an ‘A’ from me.

Thanks for readin’.


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