There has been a lot of controversy lately about the role of Gandhi in the liberation of India. Regardless, Gandhi’s contributions, along with his quotes, reverberate and resonate across the world even now, decades after his death.
One of the quotes that I often meditate on, and which has guided me in my personal life, is the quote “Be the change that you want to see in the world”. The quote has a fundamental mesmerising quality to it, a quality that allows you go to as deep into it, as you would like to. At various stages of my life I have looked at it differently, only to return to it later, and find that the words conveyed a totally different meaning. Under each situation, at each stage of life, the phrase took on a new and deeper meaning. So it was only my intelligence (or lack of it) that limited me, or guided me in my understanding, applicability and the vastness of these few words strung together and thrown carelessly around. During my teenage years, the phrase motivated me to fight for my rights on behalf of all the women of the world. In my twilight years now, it inspires me to a holistic life that includes environmental concerns and a simpler way of living. The phrase is much like a koan, in that the quest for meaning behind it is endless. But in its very limitlessness lies its existential inspiration and obligation. We – as intelligent human beings – can never give up on it, we can never have enough, we can never achieve it fully and completely. Like the heavens, it represents an ideal we can only strive towards. The ideal always remains beyond our human grasp. But we cannot ignore it, we cannot not act on it. The expression represents a moral, ethical – indeed an existential – obligation imposed on each and every human being by life itself.
We breathe, and then we are born. And we grow, and grow and grow. Physically, psychologically, intellectually – we grow. We are constantly evolving as individuals, as a community, as a species, as a universe. The change and chaos that evolution begets is the manifestation of that evolution. We never stop breathing. We never stop growing. We never, not for a moment, stop changing. We may not be aware of all this, but the fact remains – that we change moment by moment. Our body cells die, and regenerate moment by moment. The chemicals constituting our body, and brain, are constantly changing – the change in them leads us to function. If they did not change every moment, we would not be able to function. The world around us changes moment by moment. Someone somewhere – everyone everywhere – in this world is doing something that is enabling the world to change. The electrons are zipping around, the atoms are moving, the photons dash around colliding with each other and enter the retinas to create vision. The rich man in Beverly Hills steps into his lamborghini, and dirty little beggar child in Kolkata extends her hand to seek alms, the thief in Turkish bazaar swindles the buyer, in Washington DC Obama plans another strike on the Syrian rebels…it is all related to how the world evolves and becomes what it does. Each and every action undertaken by each and every person on the planet at each and every moment, is a decision point that affects the way the world will turn, is turning, evolving. If the beggar girl did not beg for alms that day it would affect her family, or the grocery shop that sells grocery to her family. If the rich man in lamborghini stayed home on that day, it would affect the gas his car consumes, or the quality of time between he and his loved one. If Obama fell sick and was not attend the meeting on that day – the world would be different. In all these cases the world would not be the same. So even the most mundane and seemingly harmless actions of ours affects the way the world turns out as a consequence of our day to day actions.
If the universe is so full of activity, how does it matter what I do? There are 6 billion people in the world, what does it matter if I am not perfect?
The seemingly calm, quiet and placid empty space that surrounds us and puts a sense of interpersonal distance between you and me, is actually like a frothy, violent river of tiny strings, elementary particles, atoms and molecules. The solid stuff that we see around us – like tables, chairs, walls – on the other hand, is mostly empty spaces being guarded by electromagnetic forces which prevent our hands from slicing thru the hard material. On a larger scale, the universe is speeding along, the planets are buzzing with activity, the sun is spewing fire – everything is changing every moment. If we could see and feel all this, we would not be able to handle the chaos, and would be dead in an instant. Mercifully, the human limits imposed on our bodies limit and protect us from the overwhelming universal chaos.Even if we are not aware of such activity, even if we are not paying any attention to it, we are part of that particular atomic, molecular, chemical activity. Ask any astrologer and he will tell you that our mere existence influences gravity, that affects the interplanetary relationships. Even the tiny elementary particles are doing their bit to help evolve the world. Each entity has a sphere of influence that can affect the state of the world. Each entity is contributing to the evolution of the universe according to its dharma, according to its nature, the way it is supposed to.
Another way of looking at it is to imagine the universe like an onion (thank you Shrek!). Each successive layer of the onion is exactly the same as the one above, except smaller. Outer layers were inner layers before they became stronger and more pronounced, and characteristic of onion. The outer layers build, protect and shield on inner layers while growing as a whole, and as a species. In a similar manner, the outer layers, which are synonyms for adults, society and culture, protect the newborns, who in turn grow up to be the characteristic of the species that we profess to be. So our contribution to the species is mirrored in the vegetable world, if only we take time to understand the workings of the universe. We protect and nourish our children, and who we are, and what we do, and how we wish to be perceived, we propagate thru our progeny, and those thoughts, actions, deeds characterise and defines us. If we stand firm on our virtues and values, we radiate such behavior outwards. If we ourselves fall short on virtus like honesty and integrity, then that is the kind of society – inner layers – we promote. Our society gets characterised and defined by that lack. Either way, we have contributed in the evolutionary forces.
Yet another way to look at it to study our environment of signs of how the universe works. Just like with onions, the universe reproduces and mirrors its mechanism and functionality in the functioning of our own human world. As above, so below. Take for example a production line in a factory which has several thousand workers doing their bit, to produce a piece of a giant machinery like a nuclear reactor. Or even an ordinary truck. Let us say there is an employee who puts in place a tiny screw on the finished product. In a machine that has millions of screws, and complicated pieces of machinery spread over miles and miles of production line, that one last tiny screw doesn’t seem much important – does it? Lets just say the employee screws it, but does not tighten the screw. But if even that one seemingly unimportant worker on an industrial assembly line who bolts a tiny screw fails to tighten it, the screw will fall off sooner or later. Therefore the product is not going to be as it was designed to be, or as it was meant to be. In some way or the other, it is going to fail – in quality functionality, guarantee – depending upon how critical the tightening of that screw was. Thus the failure of the worker to tighten the screw he had been responsible for, affects the quality of the product. The product will definitely, in some form or other, not be as complete and perfect as it was designed to be, as the manufacturers claimed it would be. If the quality is affected, then the brand image will be affected. It also affects the health and safety of the consumers that use the good being put forth by the company. So if it is a nuclear reactor, or a space probe, or a medical equipment – one can immediately hypothesize the consequences of the failure. But even if it is not of such importance, the quality and durability of the product is affected nevertheless. If the employee regularly fails to tighten the screw, the entire product line is tainted. If the item is being exported, the failure to tighten the screw may affect the company and national image. So on and so forth. Indeed, a minor lapse may create a national disaster, or a nuclear war. If a whole section of the production line is lax, the failure is magnified and the fault more severe, affecting a larger population, and the consequences much more severe for product, company, society which lives on the employment thru the company (remember Flint and Detroit?) and the nation.
Thus, every individual is responsible and accountable. He or she is. I AM. In some shape or form, I am absolutely responsible and accountable for the status of the world today. And only thru changing myself, my thoughts, actions and deeds can I become entitled to dreaming about a better world. As long as my actions are incongruent with the dreams that I have of a better, more honest, ethical, just and equal world, the changes that I desire remain absolutely unattainable. Even if the whole world changed for the better, I would still need to clean up my act. Why be the last one?
These examples are relevant and connected. The phrase “be the change…” goads you to experience the change within, and then work towards it. The ability to experience is an evolutionary phenomenon, it is a manifestation of psychic growth. It also requires courage to be. To be different than the masses. To be unique. To be alone. To be a creative thinker, with the abilities to think outside the box, outside of conventional thinking imposed upon us by the system, and as a consequence of that thinking, to be able to follow thru with acting on that creative thought.
Psychologist Kohut maintains that growing up is a consequence of the movement of the psyche from selfobject relating to object relations. In the selfobject relating mode, we believe that we are the centre of the universe, and the universe exists to take care of our needs. We believe that the universe is an extension of ourselves, and hence, like our own body, we can use it in whatever way we like. He claims that selfobject thinking is a child’s way of thinking – every child treats its environment and its mother like a selfobject – an extension of its own body. A child does not understand that the mother is separate from it, or that the mother may have limited resources to take care of him/her, or may have other important things to attend to. Selfobject relating creates a sense of entitlement, a narcissistic incessant demand on the other, a taking without any realisation or obligation of giving back. Thru the sufferings and trauma imposed by repeated failure of the mother to be perfect, a realisation of being “alone” and “an individual” arises, and leads to a realisation of the “otherness” of the mother. The failure of mother to be perfect causes trauma, but is also growth enhancing as it leads to an maturing of mutually fulfilling relationships. However, such evolution is optional, it is does not happen as a lifestage, but is a consequence of the experiences that are imposed upon the child. In cultures where the woman is subjugated and subservient to, the man does not go thru experience of loss, remaining cathected to the mother, and treating her as a selfobject without any regard to her own independent existence. Evolution to object relations is an outcome of recognizing the existential alone-ness of the self, letting go of the mother, and treating her with equality and otherness – (see my blog Othering of the Mother). This relationship of equality earned with the mother is then projected on others as in the environment, and community, which then are treated with mutual respect and concern. In object relations way of relating, we become conscious of, and acknowledge the other as separate from ourselves, and are willing to concede that the other’s need may be different, even in contradiction to ours, that they are entitled to acting to enhance their wellbeing, and that we are obligated to assist them in their welfare. When under the influence of mature object relationships, we engage in mutually fulfilling relationships.
For eons, humans existed in a symbiotic relationship with the universe. We unrepentantly pillaged the earth, without any awareness of the separateness of earth, or the limit of its resourcefulness, or the effect of our relentless scavenging. As ancient religions, cultures, and civilizations evolved and acquired maturity, we see a subtle shift in their acknowledgement of the otherness of the earth, of people, of the environment. Product of millions of years of human evolution, these religions, cultures and civilizations did not seek to impose their own way of life on nature. Instead, they acknowledged the differences and mutual interests of each entity. Operating from relational principles, the ancients honored and preserved the otherness of the other – be those others animate or inanimate objects. We see emphasis on interaction and engagement with environment, nature, and objects in all ancient (pagan) cultures, religions and civilizations.
The ancient cultures, civilizations and religions were overpowered within this millennium by newer cultures and religions that lacked such depth, wisdom, and maturity needed to grow in an interdependent manner. With childlike narcissism, the actions of the new religious minded revolved around their own needs, and the needs of their own congregation. The essence of relationship with the mother has a more broader implication – a societal implication – than is actually acknowledged by any of these newer religions. In all these cultures, one sees that the the symbolic separation from the mother is never completed. The otherness of the (m)other is never established. In their way of thinking (M)other is forever enslaved into subjugation, as an essential part of their own bodies, to be treated as they would treat their own bodies, to be controlled as they would control their own bodies. These unresolved and exploitative relationships with their own mother were then projected onto the environment.
The pagan culture of the American Native Indians, Aborigines of Australia, The Maori of New Zealand, the Yezdi of Middle East, the Zoroastrians of Persia, the Hindus of India and most vanquished indigenous people of all lands, engaged with nature in a mutually respectful manner. However, with the exception of Hinduism, all these cultures have practically been wiped out.We now live and breathe in an environment that is based on selfobject relating. Fundamentalist faction of society from Middle East battle with the doctrines of materialistic greed flaunted by the West for world dominance – the environmentally beneficent cultures and religions are not even in the race. The idea of either side winning this war is a frightening thought. Both sides spell disaster for the world and environment – what kind of disaster it should be, is the only variable disputed by the warring factions.
We today stand at the historical crossroads that will shape our future generations. The violent, corrupted and contaminated world which we live in, scares most of us who have the ability to dream of a better world. A large majority today believe that lack of honesty, and integrity is a new threshold of human character. Deceit in relationships is a norm rather than an exception. In such a world, it becomes easy to forget who we are, what we ought to strive for. We experience helplessness associated with being a miniscule part of the world, and doubt our own potential, and ability to make any difference. So why bother with values when we do not have a say in the evolution of the world. We do not believe that we matter. We do not believe that we can be the change that we dream about. But these flawed beliefs are a consequence of only a sense of overwhelm we feel upon being confronted with the massiveness of humanity. Since when have sheer numbers discounted individual human potential? Majority of humanity does not utilize even 10% of their potential. Look at it this way – if Bill Gates and all the others did not, and do not feel overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, then change by individual action must be possible. Would you feel so powerless in your own home? In your neighborhood? In your community? You did not feel powerless when you had to provide for your wife and kids. Why would you feel powerless to be the change that has a potential of affecting your loved ones, and the world that they will inherit from yhttps://www.facebook.com/ou ? Is dishonesty, corruption, apathy a legacy that you would leave behind for your children?
You are not powerless in affecting change. You may be apathetic, but not powerless. Passion is the first step to change. Passion is invincible. If you think you are powerless, it is only because you lack passion for change, you lack belief in your own abilities, and the courage to venture out of comfort zone – and as a consequence, you place self imposed limits on your existence and your potential. You lack the courage of being who you truly are – the divine child of immortality with powers to match.
My last post was about the divinity within, taken from a religious Indian online newsletter. I found it to be a potent message. We are divinity itself. We are the offsprings of immortality. We are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. We come thru humans, our parent, but we come not from them. We are within the world, yet we do not belong to the world – we are more than mere human bodies. We are children of immortality. We are unending. We are timeless. We are born, we craft a world by and thru our actions, we die but the world that is created and affected by us, lives on. And it is for us to decide what kind of world we want to leave behind for our children. Should it be a safe and secure world, or should we leave behind a world full of apathy, corruption, evil and ill will? Would you willingly send your child to a school that was unsafe, apathetic, even evil and dangerous? Would you willingly live in a neighborhood which was dangerous? Would you willingly do anything to endanger the life of your child and/or harm them? Would you be apathetic about leaving behind an ancestral home for your child that was unsafe and dangerous to live in ? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then why would you want to contribute towards creating a world that would be harmful to your children?
Living in this world, and constantly being exposed to its failures, we fall into disrepute with our psyche. We start off with proper ideals, but as we grow, we conform, we lie, we cheat, we steal, we lose our integrity, our passion, our dreams. Happens even to the best among us. But it is our ethical obligation to pick ourselves back up, and put ourselves back onto the track. A track that will leave the world at least as beautiful as we found it when we inherited it from our parents. A track that will leave footprints that our children would be proud to follow. We are constantly leaving footprints. If we are not careful, we leave the wrong kind of footprints/examples for our children to follow. And follow they do, which is why our careless treads have led the world to a precipice. This is the world our children have inherited from us. And we owe it to them to clean it up. Therefore, what we do, and how we do it, and what we are and how we are seen by our children, is important. We have to be what we want them to be. We have to be the change that we want the world to be. There is no other way.
Our actions have consequences. The consequences are manifest in the world itself, and they do not end when we die. Since a part of us lives on in our progeny and in the legacies of art and narrative, and even in the memories we leave behind, therefore it is only our ignorance that makes us believe that we die when the breath ceases. John Locke, and Gandhi died decades ago, Jesus died over 2000 years ago – but are they really dead? Each and every action of ours had a consequence that affect us and our progeny into perpetuity, into infinity, even after we do not exist as mortals. And so, thru our actions, we affect the future. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions – even in death. This is the law of Karma.We are reborn and we continue to craft the world thru our actions and deeds. We are the creators, we are the created, we are the creation. That is our dharma, the nature of our existence. And in that ceaseless, timeless existence, we affect our children, and indeed the world thru our actions. We affect evolution. Our actions cause and contribute to success as well as the downfall of civilizations.
Some of these above are the paraphrased words of Vivekananda, and Khalil Gibran. Gibran further states “The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might, that His arrows may go swift and far.” Thus we are the archers, we are the bows, and we are the arrows that the archer sets forth, and we – as human – are also the targets that the arrow is intended for. Gibran ends with “Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.” So let our actions, our personalities, and our behaviors create an environment that is commendable. It behooves us to remain stable, to remain rooted in our integrity, in our honesty, in our compassion, in our care and concern for our environment, in object relational way of interaction. It behoves us to be passionate about our dreams. It behooves us to put forth actions and deeds anchored by our dreams, so that those actions and deeds, powered by the strength of our passion – like arrows – will go far, and make a mark. It also becomes our ethical and moral responsibility to lead our sons, daughters and youth by example. They will, or can only follow our own models to fuel their inspiration, and they in turn will birth sons and daughters with the same passionate dreams and inspirational values to further spread honesty, integrity, compassion, and concern for others and the environment. The world needs role models. Who can be a better role model than you? There is no limit to what can be achieved. One only needs passion, and the ability to dream.
The change that we want in the world starts from the grassroots. It starts from a thought, an act, a deed, and yes, a person. And if each person forgets about changing the rest of the world, and only focuses on changing himself or herself, and becomes that change, and creates a micro environment around him – in and thru his own family influences – which manifests that desired change, the world will change. One person, one family, one neighborhood at a time. Without that first thought, first deed, first action, first person, no change is possible.
So find out what you are passionate about. And use that passion as a fuel to create a better version of yourself. And see “betterment” radiate outward in the world. You do have the ability and the power. Yes, you do.
A pastor once asked me how how much money I donated every month in charitable contribution to make the world a better place. I told him that my contribution to the world is much much more than mere financial. I was created to have integrity, I am honest, and I have a passion for justice and equality. I have lived by those ideals all my life. I have been the creation. I have created two beautiful and perfect specimens of human species, who don’t lie, cheat, fight, who are honest, ethical and hardworking citizens of the world, with a remarkable passion for justice, fairness, equality and environment. Such a contribution to creation dwarfs any financial contribution I may have ever made.
I believed in being the change, and in and thru years of being that change, I influenced my young ones, and the change that I had become, has grown and multiplied over the years. The change will continue growing thru them, and thru their children – it influences the world in many different ways and contributes to the destiny that lies ahead. I made a difference. So can you.
So, come and join me. Embrace Gandhi’s words, become passionate about them, act on them. Begin NOW, in this moment.