“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
-Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi
Some days in this world are harder than others. Some days there is more uncertainty and unrest. We shake our fists at the institutions, at the broken systems, and at each other. We rage against the injustice of it all. We yell and scream, unleashing an exhaustive amount of negative energy that wraps us in a fog and seeps into everything around us.
We draw lines in the sand. We distance ourselves from our family, from people we once called friends. We subject ourselves to demoralizing media, and we feel isolated, powerless, and scared. We act out, set things on fire, and hurt each other. In our misguided displays of loss, anger, frustration, and fear, we deepen the darkness of the time. We make things worse.
If we want change, if we are inspired to take action, we have to start with ourselves. We have to take a step back and take a long hard look in the mirror. Are we behaving like the people we think others should be? Are we practicing what we preach? After all, we can’t expect others to follow a way of life that we do not follow ourselves.
The key is to set the example. If you want to influence change, do and be all of the things you think others should be. Lead and show others the way by exemplifying the character traits you value the most, such as honesty, integrity, tolerance, and kindness. Hold yourself to the same, if not higher, standards that you hold others.
When we are angry and frustrated, we want to be heard. We want others to listen to us. But when we feel those words and actions swelling up in our chests and rising up ready and desperate to explode out of us, it’s time to take a step back to gain some clarity. If we want others to listen, then we must do the same. Take deep breaths and listen to the wind, to the birds, to the rustling leaves. Listen to the sounds of home and comfort, to life happening around us, and calm your thoughts.
Then open your mind to the thoughts of others. One of the greatest things about being human is our ability to discuss ideas, to share and debate opposing viewpoints rationally and without raging at one another. Wipe away those lines in the sand and reconnect with others. Listen to your loved ones, your teachers. Talk and share your thoughts and ideas, but also listen. In listening, we open our minds to new possibilities.
Attempting to understand the perspectives of others helps us grow and gain insight. We are all walking our own unique paths, trying to follow a way of life that we believe is the best way. We make decisions based on the knowledge and experiences that have contributed to our individual perspectives and that have formed our ideologies. We cannot all be wrong, and we cannot all be right.
If we believe others should practice tolerance, then we must practice as well. It is important that we look beyond the point immediately in front of us and try to understand the viewpoints of others, their experiences, their passions and belief systems. We then begin to better relate to each other.
We don’t like what we don’t understand. We are scared of the unknown, and we allow fear to push us in whatever direction it wants. Sometimes it pushes us to run away, but no matter how far or long we run, fear will be right behind us. If we want others to be brave and seek to understand, we have to do the same.
We have to face our fears. Fear is a powerful tactic, and throughout history it has been used as a tool of influence and control. We cannot let fear goad us into thoughtless action. We cannot let fear dictate who we are. We cannot let it lead us down a path of hatred and judgment and anger. We must learn about the things that scare us or that we don’t understand, deconstruct them and put them back together.
We are all fallible and must take responsibility for ourselves, even when we feel inclined to blame something or someone else. None of us like to be judged, especially by others who lack the knowledge and proximity to understand us. None of us feel good when we are treated as anything less than what and who we are.
It is the golden rule of human interaction to treat others as you wish to be treated. If we crave more kindness and compassion in this world, then we have to create it. We start by simply being kinder to the people we encounter. Love and kindness have a ripple effect. When we experience it, we are more likely to pass it on to others. The energy we put out into the world increases exponentially and eventually makes its way back to us.
Positive change starts with ourselves, but there are many direct social and community contributions we can make. Rather than let feelings of hate, fear, or self-righteousness control and weaken us, we can share and spread messages of love, kindness, and tolerance. We can teach our children to be tolerant and brave and guide them along the pathways of morality and compassion. We can educate ourselves on the needs of our community and take action, volunteer our time and skill sets to causes we believe in and wish to positively influence.
We must aim high and practice becoming the people that inhabit our visions of an ideal world. Bit by bit we can transform, and all of that love and light will radiate outward and warm the people around us. We have to channel our passion and energy into the things we believe in, and we have to do it in a positive way and productive way. Then we can influence change within our communities, our neighborhoods, our cities. Together, we can influence the world.