Continuing with our theme of words and phrases that bug me, I present “Be the Change”.
It’s attributed to Ghandi, but was, apparently, not actually said by him.
The whole notion of being a world-changer/changing the world/being the change/hold my beer – I’ve got this, raises my hackles.
And I didn’t really know why until one day I was describing my husband and what I came up with was that he does good in the world without needing to change it, does good for people without needing to change them.
It’s a subtle difference and yes, I know that doing good does change things, but that’s not the primary motivation. The good is, not the change. Alan sees a need and if he can help, he helps, without judgement or expectation. He tries, always, to be the good and leaves the change to others.
Because, here’s the thing with being the change: with every change you make, you trigger the Law of Unintended Consequences.
When I was blogging with Blogger, they would change something up with great fanfare. And along with that sexy new change would come a glitch somewhere else in the programming. As in, “Now more fonts!!!!!” but you couldn’t post comments any more.
Or, as my cousin Marilyn explained about the workhouse system in England, in which my forebears were caught, it was meant to be an improvement over the old ways of people starving to death in the streets. But because of the way they were set up and the fact that they were run by fallible human beings, families were ripped apart and entire generations left traumatized. It was a change, yes, but was it an actual improvement? People still starved. Suffering was still rampant, but it was bureaucratised and hidden behind cold stone walls.
On a much more shallow level, I’ve watched a few houses change hands in our neighbourhood. We’ve lived here long enough to notice these things. And the way it always happens is that there is a flurry of activity as the house gets painted and upgraded. The old, unfashionable countertops are taken out and replaced by granite or maybe the entire kitchen gets gutted and redone. And then the For Sale sign sprouts on the lawn. The new owners come in and the whole place gets repainted. And frequently that brand new kitchen gets gutted and redone. And I shake my head and wonder what is wrong with people. Because I hate the wastefulness. Plus I’m pretty much over the whole home ownership thing and the renovating that goes along with it.
But I think this is a good metaphor for looking at the “change” we’re supposed to “be” in the world. We can wonder if it’s an actual change that needs to be made, like, say, replacing a leaking roof, or is it just granite countertops when the old Formica ones were fine?
Our are we knocking down walls and opening up the space when that was actually a supporting wall and the whole house is now in danger of falling down around us?
There is so much in our society and institutions that tells us that we have to make a difference, make an impact, make a change. But so many changes are changes for the worse. Or at the very least are changes for the sake of change that don’t have a net effect of good. And maybe it’s time for all of us little stardust beings to take a deep breath and just have a look around.
A few years ago, I agreed to volunteer at the local cancer support centre, offering free Reiki treatments to people whose lives have been touched by cancer – people undergoing treatment, cancer survivors and their caregivers. It’s a great organization and I was eager to help. And sometimes I actually did help. We had some big wins as people found relief from the after-effects of chemo and radiation. I was able to help others achieve a degree of calm in a very difficult time. At the very least, I spent forty-five minutes at a time letting my clients know that they were seen and valued and loved. I was, in fact, doing good.
But the change I wanted to see in the world – the “No one dies from cancer” change? So did not happen. Some of my clients got better. But a lot of them, so so many of them, died. And that broke my heart.
The whole experience taught me about love and strength and humbly asking “what do you need from me?”
And I learned again that the change I want to see in the world may not be the change the world will have.
We’re not always as wise as we want to be. The world and this life have a wisdom of their own that, by rolling up our sleeves and being the change, we may miss. We’ll miss the things that heartbreak can teach. We’ll miss the things that the people we want to change might teach us. We’ll miss the wonder the world can offer us in all of its broken beauty.
And yes, there are deep injustices that need to be fixed in our society and it’s good to get behind those changes, but we don’t need to change everything and the deepest, most lasting changes come about when individuals choose to be kind to those around them.
Choose kindness. Choose love. And maybe learn to trust that this world was ticking along for a few years before we came along and will tick along for a few years after we’re gone. The attitude of “hold my beer, I’ve got this”, while it feels good, is, I think, a little bit arrogant.