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.