Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Be the Change

Background: When giving my first public lecture at my alma mater I ended my talk with Gandhi's "Be the change you want to see in the world" quote hoping to give a call to action to the audience. I told the students that they can get involved in saving the world, even if it's something as small as volunteering locally. I thought it was inspiring but when I read the student evaluations one of the students totally ripped into me based on that quote and literally said "I think most intelligent people stop using that quote somewhere around 6th grade. Who does she think she is? She sure isn't Gandhi!"

I think we've all heard this much repeated quote from Gandhi, and despite this negative Nelly's assertion I continue to love this quote well past my 6th grade years and while I realize I am not Gandhi and wouldn't dare think I will ever be Gandhi-like in my life, I truly do reflect on it often and try and live my life in a manner consistent with this mantra. This is the reason I volunteer and do the things I do. I DO want to make the world a better place and hope that my small efforts do change the world no matter how small.

I was again reminded about this after watching & participating in a little blog discussion with some strangers about whether or not Three Blind Mice should be used in a kindergarten class. Now I know you are thinking "Say what?" But the discussion revolved around whether using the rhyme with its discussion of violence (the Farmer's wife cutting off the tails of the mice) was appropriate. I'm sure many of you are thinking A. What's the big deal and B. What the hell does this have to do with Gandhi?

Basically this: I feel like to the greatest extent possible, you should try and life your life in a consistent manner. If you don't feel like violence is appropriate (and I would guess most people, including a kindergarten teacher) would say it is not, then you should make sure that all of your actions promote the idea of non-violence. Now Three Blind Mice may not be earth-shattering in the "violence" it demonstrates and I acknowledge that there is much more heinous violence going on in the world (and probably in many children's lives) but it is more the principle of the matter.

Which gets us back to Gandhi. For some reason "Be the Change" was echoing in my head while sorting through my thoughts related to this person's blog post. So I thought to myself, you know, I really like that quote but I don't have much background for the context. So being the researcher I am I started looking around for some additional information. I found this great interview with Gandhi's grandson and it so powerfully moved me that I felt compelled to write this blog and to copy this portion of the interview:

AMY ELDON: One of Gandhi's most famous sayings is, "We must be the change we wish to see." In what context did he say that and what does it really mean?

ARUN GANDHI: Well he said this when he was speaking after prayer service and he mentioned this because people kept saying to him that the world has to change for us to change. He said, "No, the world will not change if we don't change." So we have to make the beginning ourselves. It has always been our human nature to blame someone else for everything that is happening. It's never us. We are never at fault. And he tried to make us realize that we are just as much in the fault as anybody else. Unless we change ourselves and help people around us change, nobody will change because then everybody will be waiting for the other person to change.
This is exactly what I mean when I say if you do not find violence acceptable then you should not be promoting violence in any way, not even something as innocuous and silly as Three Blind Mice. If we say "It's no big deal. Whatever!" then we are relying on others to do the work on not bringing violence into children's lives and saying that our use of a "cute & funny" nursery rhyme is no big deal. And maybe in the long run it isn't. But why take that chance? When you can chose to do something else, why not? What harm is there? Is Three Blind Mice so earth shattering that you MUST teach it and can't find ANY alternatives?

Let's move it to a larger context and not just this one small scenario. If you stand for any principle I think it is important to weave that principle into your everyday life, no matter how small and insignificant it is. I consider myself a pacifist and I strive to embody this is all realms of my life. I certainly do not take part in any event that promotes violence and one of my personal goals over the past few years has been to reduce violence in my words and thoughts. One area in particular that I have trouble not saying and thinking violent thoughts is when I'm in the car. I tend to have a little road rage, mostly because I have a low tolerance for idiotic driving (FYI--superiority and elitism is not one thing I am working to reduce in my life). I had been known to say or think "I hope you crash!" to someone who is driving ridiculously and at some point it occurred to me that crashing could cause injury and/or loss of life and since I abhor senseless acts that endanger human life I really shouldn't be saying or thinking those things. Since then I've switched to a mode of either trying to quietly accept that I do not like the way this person drives and hope that they will someday realize this, or if they realllllly anger me hope something not pleasant but not terrible happens to them. Usually I make it something really silly. Like "Ooooh, I hope they get diarrhea and they can't get to a bathroom in time and poop their pants." Non-violent, check. Helps me let off steam, check. Usually gets me to calm down from my irritation because the karmic wish is so ridiculous, check check.

Again, you might be thinking "Who cares what stupid thing you say in a moment of irritation???" First and foremost I do. It is really important to me to live my life in a way that makes me happy and feel good about the person I am. Secondly, I want to be a model for other people. I want to see more good in this world and I feel like this is one small way that I can do this. Kind of like that Liberty Mutual television commercial about the chain reaction of events that happen when one person is nice and then it inspires others to do the same. This is particularly important to me as I do hope we have children in the future. I want my children to be raised in a non-violent home where these small things DO matter. I don't want my children to have toy guns or other violent toys. I do want them to have the same values I do and hope that by starting now, I will be able to be the best model possible for them. As I always like to say "make your own choices" but I know that for me, my choices are guided by underlying principles that are critically important to my life and the way I hope to live.


Laurie said...

it's interesting that you use that Ghandi quote as a kind of mantra, I had it on the top of my computer screen for the 15 years I taught. I believe that we must model the behavior we expect to see in others,and that was my daily reminder. And along with you, I have surpassed the "write a cool quote on your binder" stage of 6th grade and haven't tired of the lessons in this particular saying yet.

Wow - how is it that something that sounds so simple is often so hard?! When I'm having a particularly hard time being as helpful or even tolerant of others as I know I should be, it helps me to repeat that bit over and over again.

ange said...

Great post babe. I think just starting with small things (i.e. the car) have helped me bring this into other realms of our life. I try to step back and look at what I am doing and saying and think about how I would feel as if I were saying it to myself before I say it (kinda long winded there, sorry). Anyhow, rock on with the change!