Practical Ways to “Be the Change” that aren’t Vague, Fluffy, or Woo-Woo 

We’ve all heard the quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, (which isn’t an exact quote from Mahatma Ghandi but more of a condensed paraphrase of what he actually said) and it’s sprinkled like glitter on plenty of self-help images, pop-psychology memes and emblazoned across a whole smattering of home goods products everywhere: “Be the Change” has been the new “Live, Laugh, Love” or “Wag More, Bark Less.” With 2022 coming in fast for we who have been scarred from so much isolation, frustration and pain— I thought about how refreshing it would be if there was indeed, serious change in our world… but does it have to be big to be meaningful?!

(Spoiler alert: No.) 

Like many popular catchphrases, I tend to find myself automatically raising an eyebrow in skepticism and wondering if there is any serious depth at all, to these cute phrases. There is. Or at least… there can be if you want there to be. Unlike the other two former examples that simply encourage positive thinking, the phrase “be the change” can become a moment of radical metanoia for people in a world that seems to be narrowing in on itself with intolerance, hostility, and division.

While books can and have been written on how to go about a major interior conversion, I thought I’d share just a few very simple ideas that are immediately employable for those who maybe aren’t called to a life of major social activism or legislative lobbying. Change can happen in very small but meaningful ways, and it is in the still, hidden parts of a soul, that transformation finds its home.

  • Mean what you say. If you say “I’m fine”, mean it. Otherwise be more honest: “I’m struggling right now but I appreciate your asking.” If you say you don’t need help, mean it. Commit yourself to a life of radical honesty and become a person whose word can be counted on.

  • Pay for the car behind you in the drive-thru line, shovel your neighbor’s snowy driveway, hold the door open for someone. Random acts of kindness have the power to break through the reign of indifference and polarization that affects our world so much right now.

  • Attend local, community meetings. City hall. School board meetings. Show up. Be heard.

  • Bring a meal to a new mother or an old mother! Don’t wait to be asked for help. They need help, trust me. Make a meal that can be easily frozen, then deliver it and delight in knowing what a godsend you are.

  • Get a reusable water bottle, and use it. Don’t get lost in these elitist wars about plastic vs. steel vs. glass. Just use a water bottle when possible and know that you are doing your part to eliminate waste. Same with reusable grocery bags.

  • Apologize. Stop battling others and start battling your own ego. Paradoxically, you will will actually elevate in the eyes of others when you readily acknowledge your mistakes.

  • Say hello to strangers you pass on the road, if that feels too hard, at least smile and nod.

  • Give others the benefit of the doubt. Respect the mystery of the other and don’t assume you know the whole story.

  • Have people in your life who think differently than you do. Be willing to sit with the discomfort of someone else’s experience.

  • Read things that you don’t already agree with. Be challenged.

  • Treat service industry workers generously. Tell them they’re doing a great job when they are. Be graceful when they are not.

Lastly, I want to offer one particularly important suggestion: try with all your might to guard and nurture your sense of holy curiosity about the world, others, and yourself. Neuroscientists have discovered a marvelous thing about the human mind: it is literally impossible to be outraged and curious at the same time.

What would happen if we all went into the new year as humans more interested in understanding than reacting…?