Personal change may be all I'm entitled to do. It may be all I can do. I can't change others, except if they by my example choose to change. The only choices that are mine are, well, mine.
So I can choose, and I can change, but that does not change the world. I am fighting sex trafficking, but that doesn't mean it is over. I am working for peace and coexistence, but that doesn't mean others no longer discriminate against races, sexes, sexualities, and viewpoints they find discomfiting.
I can be the change I want to see...and then what? Have I changed the world? Not really.
When I started writing this post, I looked up the above quote. I've heard it attributed to Ghandi, but I wanted to be sure. The second hit in my Google search was a brief New York Times article: Falser Words Were Never Spoken. It says, essentially, that that quote about change and many others we attribute to Mandela, Thoreau, Einstein--they aren't quotes at all. They are paraphrases of great men that give us the inspiration without the steel and stone that these men lived by.
Ghandi talked a lot about personal change. He believed that inner growth was a part of social growth. He also believed it wasn't enough. That's why he worked long and hard to get a movement going. That's why he sacrificed so much. Not because he thought that such sacrifices would make him good enough that the world would change; but because those sacrifices brought people together behind him, and those people were the force that really changed the world.
You cannot change the world on your own. You can't be a good, kind, virtuous person and expect life to get better for the rest of us.
But you can change people.
See, I kind of lied when I said you can only change yourself. It's true that you can't make choices for people. But you can give them the power to make choices they couldn't make otherwise.
People often want to make the right choice. But they are held back by their insecurities. They aren't sure if they can, so they don't try, out of fear of failure and embarrassment. They're afraid they might be wrong. They're afraid of pain and loneliness and separation.
When I believe in people, I help them believe in themselves. When I love people, I send the message, however small, that they CAN. That they are enough. That they're not alone. That trying is worth it.
That's why movements make a bigger difference than individuals: alone we are too afraid. Alone, our imperfections make us impotent. But together, each of us is strong where the other is weak. We make up for each other's missing pieces. We encourage one another. We give each other strength.
I cannot change the world. But I can empower the people around me. Together, we have a chance of making real change.
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