By Caitlin Johnstone
Source: Ghion Journal
This piece was originally published on Caitlin’s website on July 7th.
Name a quote by Mahatma Gandhi.
Odds are the first thing that jumps into your mind is the famous, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It’s a good quote. It’s pithy enough to fit on a bumper sticker, and it resonates deeply with something inside us all which tells us that it points to something true and valuable.
But, like so many other pithy bumper sticker quotes we see floating around today, these words were never spoken by the person they’re attributed to. What Gandhi actually said was this:
“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.”
Oof. That’s a bit more confrontational than the popularized version, isn’t it? Change my own nature? I thought we were talking about something light and easy, like not wearing fur or buying fair trade coffee beans.
That’s how “Be the change you wish to see in the world” tends to get interpreted today. It’s a line that is so commonly regurgitated in our society that it’s now cliché and almost meaningless, something you see on cheap keychains at the mall and scan over without really reading, but assume you understand because you’ve seen it so many times before. If pressed to really think about it, most people will say it means something like make the changes in the world that you want to see. If you don’t like factory farming, become a vegan. If you don’t like poverty, volunteer at a soup kitchen.
But that isn’t what the quote says. It’s nothing like what the original one by Gandhi says. It’s not even what the stripped-down bumper sticker version says.
Even if you look at the popularized version of the quote, really look at it with fresh eyes that haven’t seen it thoughtlessly regurgitated by corporate liberals and plastered on K-Mart products, you come away with the same message as the original. It doesn’t say “Do the change you wish to see in the world.” It doesn’t say “Enact the change you wish to see in the world.” It says “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It isn’t referring to a mere change in behavior or lifestyle, it’s saying change who you are as a person. It’s saying change your own nature to change the world.
This is night-and-day different from the conventional interpretation. The conventional interpretation of the quote…