Sunday, March 16, 2008
Author: 

K Haridas Nair‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’ said Gandhi. Frank Buchman said: ‘Change must start with oneself.’

It was Mahatma Gandhi who said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ This was a call for personal responsibility and action. The shortcomings in the world can perhaps best be tackled by dealing with the shortcomings in people. Similarly, it was Frank Buchman, the initiator of ‘Initiatives of Change’ (IofC) who emphasized the obvious, ‘Change must start with oneself '. In both instances it was a call for realization, change and action. Such change was not just an expression of belief or ideals. It was specific and clear that a shift in attitude and behaviour was necessary if change was going to be effective.

Socrates held that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. This quote from Plato’s dialogue about the trial of Socrates (who was condemned to death by the people of Athens in 399 BC) is most challenging. Perhaps the unexamined life will never know whether it was worth living.

How does one go about examining one’s life? Gandhi’s quote provides one option while Buchman’s plea to start with ‘oneself’ involves an appraisal of one’s life against absolute moral standards. Often people miss the ‘how to’ between ideals and action. By developing character through change we add value to life. The challenge is to act on and make ideals work in our lives and commitments.

‘Change starts with me’ is a powerful starting point. It is about me and personal responsibility. It is not about how other’s treat me, the difficult conditions I find myself in, or just about being a victim. It is about accepting reality as part of my experience and moving forward from there. This requires courage and a deflation of the ego. The focus is on the person looking into the mirror and not on the mirror itself. How tenable is such a position? Is it realistic to take such a stand? Try it and you can appreciate the tremendous challenge this poses – and the freedom that can be yours to celebrate.

We live in an imperfect world where hate, greed, selfishness and corruption are self-evident. Yet every individual is on a journey towards finding meaning albeit even unconsciously. Reality and relativism numb our sense of clarity. To start with oneself, even in the most difficult of situations, can make a difference. In the final analysis I can only change myself.

The imperfections will always be there but those to which I give my attention and start to change then become part of my experience. Change starts with me requires of me to turn the searchlight inwards and to ask those searching questions. Why is this happening to me? What can I learn? How can I contribute positively to what is happening? How can I make a difference? It is a journey of self empowerment. The journey onwards is very often clarified by a journey inwards through silence and meditation.

When I reflected in silence and examined my own life the realizations that dawned on me challenged me to take steps of restitution and forgiveness. I was bitterly divided from a relative. When asked, ‘How wrong was he, I retorted 99%.’ Yet, when I focused on my one per cent, I realized my wrongs and took responsibility for the same. I sought forgiveness with nothing to prove and no justifications. This reconciliation is a personal experience which I treasure.

When one responds to issues without blame then it threatens no one. This may inspire the ‘other’ to so reflect likewise. However, if the searchlight is turned outwards then a rational analysis could propound brilliant reasons to justify, rationalize and impress that the structure and system needs to shift. While there may be some truth to such assertions, this rarely inspires change. It is at best a good analysis that is rather short on responsibility, change and making a difference.

Both Gandhi and Buchman were custodians of a light that shone in their own lives. Their own stories and experiences inspired others. The power of change and for change lies in our capacity for courage. This requires us to take a position of not being a victim but one who decides to deal with our own attitudes, hurts and failings however unjustified this may seem.

It is this magnetic quality that energizes consequences way beyond our own individual capacities and expectations. A chain is broken and others catch the flame and transformation results. The more we are able to bring such stories and sharing to the conference table the more these contribute to the building blocks for peace. It reaffirms the saying, ‘Peace is not just an idea, it is people becoming different'.