Be the Change, prt. 2

gandhi

It is easy to understand why some people are mystified by this idea that everyone needs to change only him/her self. If I take that seriously, it comes off sounding like I’m the ONLY one who needs to change. Most of us are not prepared to go from thinking everyone else on earth needs to change to thinking that it is only us who need to change.

But that is not what this perspective calls for. When I decide to be the change I wish to see in the world, it is not because I somehow come to believe I’m the only one who needs to change. Rather, it is because I give in to the reality that I am the only person I CAN change without contributing to the endless cycle of bloodshed, conflict, and hostile resistance. Therefore, a decision to be the change you wish to see in the world is a decision to embrace reality as it is, not as you wish it to be.

This gets mystical pretty quickly. When you realize you are the only person that you can change, it robs you of control, and yet is hugely empowering at the same time. You give up the games you have been playing. You stop manipulating other people both overtly and covertly. You actually begin to feel cleaner inside — less tense, less judgmental, less frustrated, less discontented — because your focus is now on something you can actually deal with: YOURSELF.

But nearly all of our psychological defense mechanisms (denial, projection, repression, sublimation, etc.) are structured so as to prevent us from seeing the reality of ourselves clearly. Some of us do this by “faking good.” Our defenses are oriented to giving us a better impression of ourselves than reality would warrant. Others do it by “faking bad.” Their defenses are oriented to giving them a worse impression of themselves than reality would warrant. But they are two sides of the same coin. As John Maxwell says, “You’re neither as bad, nor as good, as your press.” On one hand, you are a broken, flawed human being who regularly sins against God and others. You’re not really that good. On the other hand, in the words of Dallas Willard, you are a divinely created spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe. In other words, you are sublime beyond all human comprehension. It’s both/and.

But you are only one to the extent that you truly see the other. When we see only our goodness and not our sinfulness and brokenness, we are living falsely and our falsehood conflates into egoism and arrogance. When we see only our sin and brokenness, that too is living falsely and this falsehood spirals down into increasing feelings of worthlessness. The point is, they are both false. Being the change in a way that is real and not just a pipe dream requires one to face the truth about him/herself. At the same time, being the change will increasingly cause one to see this truth on deeper and deeper levels.

In my next post, I will try to explain as briefly and clearly as I can where a person begins if their desire is to truly be the change they wish to see in the world.

Be the Change

Gandhi - quotes

One of Gandhi’s most famous quotes is, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This pretty well wraps up the heart of true spirituality. True spirituality stops “waiting on the world to change,” recognizing that the world will not change until individual human beings change.

The reason this is not happening at the level it needs to is because we are each wired to think that others need to change more than we do.

Richard Rohr says that the cycle of violence actually begins with comparison. We compare, we compete, we conflict, we conspire, we condemn and we then crucify with impunity.

Comparing means that when I look at the world and think about what needs to be different, what I see is how much worse other people are than me. I think, “If they would just pull it together, this world would be a better place.”

The problem is that everyone is doing this at the same time.

I think you should change.

You think I should change.

Democrats think Republicans should change.

Republicans think Democrats should change.

Israelis think Palestinians should change.

Palestinians think Israelis should change.

Non-terrorists think terrorists should change, and terrorists think they are forced to be terrorists in order to get the rest of the world to change.

And the wheel goes ’round.

Everyone in the world longs for change, but we long for it in others. And since we are so powerless to make others change, we become increasingly frustrated, and then vocal, and then insistent, and then forceful, and eventually violent.

What is happening at the world level in terms of violence is happening constantly at the personal level in the heart of every human being on the planet.

You think your marriage would be better if your spouse would change, and your spouse thinks the exact same thing — how much better the marriage would be if you would change.

Most of us believe we are better than other people because we do  not allow our cycles of violence to erupt into actual physical violence, failing to see that the same root of violence grows in each of us.

Yes, it’s good to pull the plant out before it blossoms into violence, but we must see that the root is exactly the same. Jesus understood this well.

Matthew 5:21-24 (ESV)
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus insightfully targets malice, contempt, and anger as the root of physical violence like murder.

Even in most of those that never commit actual murder, the malice, contempt, and anger from which murder grows are alive and well — and often actually nurtured and excused, as we point the finger at others.

Jesus then says that the answer to this is to be proactive, not in forcing the other to change, but in accepting personal responsibility and seeking reconciliation.

He does not say that we are to seek reconciliation if we remember we have something against someone else, but rather if we remember that someone else has something against us.

He puts each of us in the place of being the person who needs to change. That is exactly what Gandhi does with “Be the change.”

Interesting enough, Jesus says we are to do this even if we are at worship.

Love between each of us is therefore exalted as more important than religious ritual, as well it should be.

Love IS the expression of God in human life.