We’ve all heard the famous injuction to be the change you want to see in the world. But these words (often and mistakenly attributed to Gandhi) skip over one far more salient point: each of us already ARE the change in the world.
Every little action (or inaction) we take in every moment of every day has consequences for the world we live in. That is an unassailable fact. We may not feel like we have a vast influence on the future, but we are all an intrinsic part of its creation.
This is something that perhaps we don’t think of an awful lot. We look up to inspirational leaders to make giant leaps forward, forgetting that we are part of the marching crowd.
My only criticism of not-Gandhi’s famous aphorism is that it feels much too daunting. It’s all very well for enlightened heroes to stand up and embody the future they wish for, but what about us, the little people?
But when we realise the essential truth of how we are all already participating in the change, it becomes not only easier to imagine what kind of future we’re heading for, but how we might bend our own day-to-day behaviours to facilitate a future that aligns more closely with our own values.
This is important. Every moment contributes, even the small moments. Especially the small moments.
- That time I pretended not to notice the homeless man on the street, begging for change.
- That time I checked my phone at the dinner table.
- That time I forgot to say thank-you when someone let me pass.
These moments did not share in my own vision of a better future. But they nevertheless contributed to both the reality of the world around me and the person I was becoming.
And we should not think that the consequences are contained: human beings are social creatures and superb mimics. Every time we mis-step, we clear the way for others to follow.
The small moments count.
So we should ask ourselves bigger questions, be more demanding with our answers, and hold ourselves to account for our actions.
- Is this really the behaviour of the person I long to be? (Obviously, I’m not talking about whether or not you are a qualified heart surgeon. I’m talking about the way you behave in the world, the things you indulge in, the things you choose to ignore. All of it is building a future you, and that version of you will be an integral part of our shared world.)
- Is this really the world I want to live in?
- Is this really the future I yearn for in my heart of hearts?
- How could I change my behaviour to contribute to my vision of a better world, a better future – and not just for myself, not just for my descendants, not just for humanity, but for the entire cosmos?
We are all contributing, minute by minute, to the future. Right now, in this very moment, your reading of this text is subtly changing who you are and who you are will inexorably change the world.
It is true that the full weight of our past experience and culture conspires to drag us onward down the same old road. But on the horizon we can see a vision of the future that urges us to finer actions and toward a better world.
This is what psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was saying about the essential tension in all of us between who we are and who we wish to become. This tension is not a mental disturbance to be cured; it is what drives us on to a life of purpose.
Each of us can use this tension between who we are and who we long to become, and take decisive action that will gently nudge the world toward our vision of a brighter future.
Every moment of every day I am creating the future for myself, my community, my descendants, the rest of humanity, the planet we share, and the entire cosmos.
- So what kind of future do I yearn for?
- What specific goals would be waymarks on the path to that future?
- And how am I building towards those specific goals and that vision of the future in my everyday actions?
Because the truth is that I already am the change – we are already the change. The only question we have to answer is whether or not it’s the kind of change we really want to see in the world.
This blog post started as a reflection on something that Elon Musk said towards the end of his famous interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
2 hours and 25 minutes into the conversation, Elon Musk lays out the source of his apparently limitless motivation:
My goal is to try to do useful things, try to maximize the probability that the future is good, make the future exciting, something you look forward to.
What are the set of things that can be done to make the future better?
There need to be things that make you look forward to waking up in the morning: you wake up in the morning and you look forward to the day, you look forward to the future.
In response to this deceptively simple remark, I wondered what sort of future excites me, what sort of future would get me out of bed in the morning.
And I was forced to question whether I am in fact helping make that future a reality – and, if not, then what kind of unexciting future I am unwittingly facilitating.
And thence to the hidden truth behind not-Gandhi’s famous utterance.