As the summer doldrums set in amidst the disharmony and dysfunction here in the USA, I’ve begun looking for inspiration on how to effect constructive change. While achieving change – especially social change- has always been very difficult, it currently seems to me next to impossible in my country. Here, amidst the everyday claims and counter claims of “fake news”, everything and everyone is so polarized we all feel stuck in our separateness.
In her May blog, Katrin addressed how this schism strikes her and what she thinks we can do as we live through these discouraging times. She concluded that when mass protests don’t work and institutions are too easily by-passed, each of us must step up. She said that we must “do what is right every single moment every single day” even when we don’t see immediate results. And how do we know what is right? Katrin suggested that we use our values and our commitment to a common well-being to guide us.
Katrin’s words reminded me of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. I immediately thought of the following quote which has been attributed to him:
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Many question whether Gandhi spoke these exact words. Nevertheless, he said many things that implore us to first look inward before we attempt to change the world. For example, he said the following:
“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.”
Gandhi’s teachings include some specific advice about how we might change ourselves. While his words of advice are simple, the actions he recommends are not. For example, he directed us to seek harmony in thoughts, words and deeds. And he advocated for individuals to pursue truth selflessly and with enormous humility. The pursuit of truth is hard work and takes time.
We should form our convictions with care. Gandhi said that we must defend our beliefs and not ever compromise on fundamentals such as showing others respect and honoring the dignity of every human being.
Even so Gandhi warned us to avoid arrogance concerning our own wisdom. He said, “It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
Gandhi acknowledged that people may diverge in what they see as truth. However, he suggested that when we pursue truth humbly, with selflessness and tolerance, we may find that our varying perceptions are all part of a larger truth:
“…where there is honest effort, it will be realized that what appear to be different truths are like the countless and apparently different leaves of the same tree.”
Of course individual change without action is not enough. Gandhi claimed that we should act fearlessly, selflessly, with dignity and without violence. He, like Katrin in her May blog, reminded us that we must take action even if we don’t see immediate results. He believed that it is the action itself rather than the fruit of the action that is most important. And he wisely observed that even if we may not see the results of our actions, if we do nothing, there will be no results.
Clearly Gandhi’s words and teachings have had a powerful impact on the world. Not only did he achieve enormous changes in India and in the world in his lifetime, other great change leaders such as Martin Luther King claimed to have been guided by his teachings. And Martin Luther King is arguably the greatest leader of social change in my lifetime.
Gandhi’s teachings are universally profound. His words transcend the boundaries of country and culture. His wisdom is equally relevant to individuals, organizations and entire societies. And for me, one of the most significant results of my readings of Gandhi is that I found the inspiration that I was looking for:
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
I plan to repeat this quote to myself every time I am exposed to the relentless onslaught of disquieting news across the globe.
Author: Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins
Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins is a social psychologist and is the CEO and owner of Miller Consultants , a firm specializing in organizational development, executive coaching and change management. Her work involves helping companies create and sustain organizational cultures that are conducive to executing sustainable strategies. She has worked with companies such as Toyota, IBM, Kindred Health, Brown-Forman, Lexmark, Anthem, Ashland Chemical, the U.S. Military and BC Hydro.
Rosenburg, Shaun. Mohandas Gandhi Quotes and Their Meaning. http://www.shaunrosenberg.com/mohandas-gandhi-quotes-and-meaning
Allen, Douglas. The Phlosophy of Mahatma Gandhi for the Twenty-first Century. Lexington Books, 2008.
Nirupama, Rao. Gandhi’s Light Guided MLK. Politico. 3/07/2013. http://www.politico.com/story/2013/03/mahatma-gandhis-lightguided-martin-luther-king-jr-088581