Mahatma Gandhi is attributed to having said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” His actual words were tweaked a little to fit on a bumper sticker. But, the essence of the meaning he wanted to get across is contained in the statement.
Gandhi’s message seems particularly appropriate when we consider the current conflict on the Israeli-Gaza border and the heightened divisiveness taking place in the United States. The natural tendency when one is attacked is to kick butt, take names and make someone pay for the wrong they have allegedly done. It’s not always easy to take the high road. The ego says, “when they go low, you go lower.”
However, one need not look far to find models of how to be the change we want to see. Take, for example, an instance (which I just found out about) in which one citizen assaulted another at a political rally in North Carolina a couple years ago. Rakeem, an unsuspecting attendee, was leaving the arena when, for no apparent reason, he was suckered punched by a man who supported the featured candidate. It was later revealed that the person who assaulted him did so because of Rakeem’s race and ethnicity. This magnified the racial divide that permeated the rally. Although it did not appear Rakeem did anything wrong, he was the one initially detained by local Sheriffs. Needless to say, Rakeem was outraged.
Eventually, the man who threw the punch was identified, arrested and charged with the assault. However, after going through the legal process, the accused assailant received probation. This further grated Rakeem since he believed if the shoe were on the other foot, the penalty would have been far harsher.
It was at this point Rakeem realized, if the world around him was going to be different, he needed to be the change he wanted to see in our world. When it came time to speak his piece in court, rather than express his outrage at the seemingly light penalty, he decided to reconcile with the man who attacked him. He talked with him face to face. As Rakeem spoke, the man who sucker punched him began to cry. Rakeem then realized that he could initiate the healing of the racial, ethnic, political and religious divides by offering a gesture symbolic of hope. So, he shook the man’s hand and hugged him.
Following this gesture to make peace, Rakeem was heavily criticized for not seeking retribution. Many suggested that he should have struck his attacker right there in the courtroom. Rakeem responded by noting that it was important for him to react differently toward those he disagrees with by showing empathy rather than retaliation. He realized the assailant was probably sheltered and taught to hate others who looked like Rakeem. He also understood the man had a skewed perspective and was likely caught up in the mob mentality of the moment. With that in mind, it was important to Rakeem to set an example of empathy that would make his kid proud.
So back to that Gandhi quote…
What he actually said is, “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. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
Some may think Rakeem did the hard thing. But being the change he wanted to see proved easier and far more successful than trying to change another.
Peace and Blessings,