Some try to tell us that the path to progress is to change the system. If we can overthrow the corrupt establishment, they tell us, we can form a new regime that’s just and equitable. The problems are caused by “those other people.” If we replace them, all will be well.
This type of change doesn’t work. We only need to look back into the dark pages of the history of the 20th century to see the folly of this tempting theory.
Fortunately, there’s a better way, although it requires more effort on the part of each individual.
Ultimately, the battle on the outside is less significant than the battle inside each one of us. People have an odd tendency: the more we’re discontented with ourselves, the more upset we become when we see those same tendencies in others. When we find peace with our own frailties, we can become more effective outside of ourselves
As author Anita Moorjani stated, “The amount of patience I have for others is in direct proportion to how much love I have for myself.”
Recent history shows examples of leaders who have led revolutions not by overpowering their opponents but by empowering their followers. Their basic philosophy is that an individual can’t be an agent of positive change unless they’re at peace within their own being. If we embrace this power, we can’t be controlled by fear or even violence.
These leaders weren’t perfect humans. But they all had a profound depth of character, tremendous integrity and a firm grasp of spiritual principles.
Mohandas Gandhi did the world a tremendous service by studying and then implementing the practice of passive resistance. In order to be effective, it requires a love of self and of others. As he stated, “Non-co-operation is an attempt to awaken the masses to a sense of their dignity and power. This can only be done by enabling them to realize that they need not fear brute force, if they but know the soul within.”
Other leaders actually became more powerful when they let go of violence and hatred and embraced love and forgiveness. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for using acts of terror in an effort to overthrow the unjust apartheid government in South Africa. Is it coincidence that he gained tremendous political influence as he wrestled with his own beliefs while in prison? Mandela’s message of forgiveness and love of enemy made him not only arguably the most effective president in South African history, but an internationally-renowned advocate of peace and diplomacy.
It’s very tempting to blame our families, our employers and the government for where we are in life. In doing so, we become victims and run the risk of creating more victims of tyranny as we try to fix problems by forcing others to change.
Change must first be an inside job. We need to not only embrace the power and goodness that lies within us, but also challenge ourselves to be our very best in order to be forces of good in the world. Every act of love, service and even non-violent defiance then inspires others to do the same.
As the late Michael Jackson sang, “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.