On Taking Back 'Be the Change You Wish to See in the World'

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

You've seen it everywhere – online, on posters, bumper stickers, movies, books, workshops... actually everywhere.

Most of the time, I hear this saying as a call to change/grow/heal our self and if we do so, the world will reflect what we've become. That rather than working to change our external reality, we should turn our energy inward. Some use this understanding to defend their apolitical stance.

We most often attribute this saying to Gandhi, but there is actually no record of him saying these exact words. The quote closest to "be the change" that anyone has found says 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. ... We need not wait to see what others do.

 

From this quote, it seems that the statement Gandhi was making is that if we wish to see change in our world, we must make it happen. That waiting for the world to change will not do. That social change and personal transformation are tied together.

What I'm not seeing in this quote is the idea that changing your life alone is enough to change the world.

Gandhi was a revolutionary and the revolution did not only take place within.

Especially in the "West", we tend to take what makes us feel most comfortable from the people and cultures we feel lead by. We sanitize it, make it shiny and leave the rest. This has happened in many ways with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen, Abraham Lincoln, the history and current reality of the United States, yoga, Indigenous peoples and practices, black culture and the list goes on.

When we take people, quotes, ways of being, ideas, etc. out of the context in which they live(d) and transform them for our own gain, they lose their lesson, meaning, value and power. And we don't stop there – we go on to deny that the original context even exists so that we can justify our actions and come to terms with the cognitive dissonance we experience as a result.

This is what has happened with "be the change you wish to see in the world."

(I've heard this quote my entire life and I didn't know "be the change" was in response to Britain's violent colonization of India until I was 17 years old.)

The truth is, when we heal and grow ourselves, our world does change – but the lasting change that our world so desperately needs will only happen if the familial, cultural and institutional systems that created our wounds are changed and transformed as well as the oppressive, dehumanizing beliefs we've internalized about ourselves and others. Otherwise, we'll continue on in this cycle of recreating the very problem we're healing from.

When we deny the context that our pain stems from, we restrict our healing and growth. 

So what does this all mean?

I don't know for sure.

What I do know is that being the change is necessary and we must also lead the change we wish to see in the world. There is no ultimate right way, but there is a way that truly honors our humanity.

This is a call for us to find our way(s) as individuals and as a collective. To heal. To grow. To take action. To hold one another accountable and transform our communities and world together. To truly shine light on the darkness within ourselves and each other (the kind of light that reveals rather than blinds).

I believe that we can make change happen. Do you?



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What Your Privilege Has To Do With Your Leadership

Unsure about what privilege means in the context of social justice? Click here to get in the loop before reading the rest of this blog. I promise, it's worth it.

Many people get defensive at the first interaction with the idea of privilege (I did). That's to be expected. Coming to terms with the fact that you are a part of a group of people that have been given an unearned set of benefits because of certain parts of your identity – it can be tough. 

It's easy to stay oblivious.

It's easy to deny it – to say everything you've accomplished, you've earned. It's easy to say it's not your fault. It's easy to feel guilty. It's easy to feel ashamed. It's easy to feel helpless. It's easy to walk around apologetic towards the groups of people who don't have your privilege. This is not what the world needs.

In her book, A Burst of Light: Essays, Audre Lorde wrote:  

“To acknowledge privilege is the first step in making it available for wider use. Each of us is blessed in some particular way, whether we recognize our blessings or not. And each one of us, somewhere in our lives, must clear a space within that blessing where she can call upon whatever resources are available to her in the name of something that must be done.”
— Audre Lorde

Our world needs the bringing awareness to, the questioning, the sharing of our individual and collective privilege. There is so much work to be done in our world and you have been blessed with the resources to help make change happen.

Sharing is caring, right?

Though I am black and woman and queer and larger than a size 8 in a world where these identities are often devalued, I am also deeply privileged. I am able-bodied, college-educated, cis-gendered and a United States citizen amongst other things. I am constantly forgetting, questioning, resisting, learning and unlearning my privilege.

This is my work. This is your work, as well.

Your presence, words and actions have great influence on the people and the systems that you interact with every day. This is where your capacity to lead lies. As a leader, this is your responsibility: to be conscious and aware of how you're influencing your life and the lives of those around you. To know yourself, to know your power and to use it in service of all people.

Here are a few ways to put this into motion:

  1. Call out/call in the people who are perpetuating values and systems that don't serve the whole.
  2. Move out of a binary mindset (positive/negative, man/woman, leader/follower etc) + step into the complexity of being human.
  3. As you learn and unlearn, educate your fellow privileged folk so that the under-privileged and marginalized groups don't have to.
  4. When making decisions that affect others, ask: "who does this benefit and who does this leave behind?"
  5. Question your comfort with the status-quo. 
  6. Take inventory of your beliefs (about yourself, specific social groups and how the world works) and bring awareness to how they show up in your life.
  7. Support the mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing of all people in your space, including yourself.
  8. Be willing to listen, reflect and shift when you're the one who gets called out/called in.  

Have any other ideas on how you can share your blessings? Let me know in the comments below.



Why the Self-Help Industry isn't Changing the World

I grew up reading the teen versions of some of the most popular personal and professional development books of our time. How to Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls. Rich Kid Poor Kid. 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. The Secret to Teen Power. I had a life coach for a Dad and I learned to question everything (to my parents' and teachers' dismay).

I wanted truth, motives, understanding and reasons for why our world is the way it is.

As I grew older and asked more questions, I became obsessed about the social and environmental injustices of our current and past existence. In 6th grade, it was the Holocaust. In 10th grade, it was Human Trafficking. I've studied up on body shaming, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, gun violence, modern day racism, reproductive rights, animal rights, colonization etc.

I'm no expert in any of it, but as I've learned more, my heart has continuously broken open.

The thing that has been the most frustrating and concerning for me is how seemingly disconnected the personal growth industry is from the work of social justice even though the idea that "if you change your life, you can change the world" is deeply embedded within so many popular self-help brands and communities. Justice work and growth work collided within me like two cars crashing into each other at 70mph. It still does. The cognitive dissonance was too real and it felt like I was two different people. The coach and the activist.

My first blatant experience of this was in my second year of college, where I was forced to come to terms with the rampant police brutality in the United States. Within a span of weeks, this country was told that neither families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown would receive justice for their murders. I also found out about the unjust murders of Aiyana Jones and Rekia Boyd – no justice. And it was right around this time when 12-year-old, Tamir Rice, was killed on-sight while playing in the park. This was the first time I really allowed myself to feel the deep rage and grief that comes along with being black in the US. For weeks, in the midst of finals season, I spent most of my time crying and on social media staying up to date on the latest information.

On Twitter, I was following many activists as well as coaches and healers. I would look at my timeline and see updates from protests, news articles, commentary on this pressing issue and sprinkled in between, I would see quotes like:

"For every minute you remain angry, you give up 60 seconds of peace of mind." // Ralph Waldo Emerson

As if nothing was happening right outside their doors. As if my anger about these injustices wasn't as important as my peace of mind. As if the reason for my anger wasn't real or valid. As if everything would be okay if I'd just let go and think positively.

The blaring silence I witnessed, from the very people who say their work is for the good of the world, was stunning.

That silence has led me onto a path that I'll never get off of. A path that encourages and supports the making of noise, the questioning of the aspects of our world that is not up to our standards and the disruption of systems that do not serve us as a whole.

To the coaches, healers, guides, leaders and overall do-gooders of the world who don't want to bring "politics" into your work, consider this:

Your work could bring massive sustainable change to many lives, families, and communities, but it won't if you don't critically look at the social context that you're working within.

The problems you help solve for your clients are most often symptoms of a much deeper and widespread systemic problem that we must get to the root of. You say you want to change the world, but what is it, in the world, that you want to change? You've got to name it to tame it.

Our socioeconomic and environmental issues affect every single one of the people you work with either actively or passively.

As you're working to create change in our world, your silence about these issues actively works against you. Your political neutrality says, "I'm totally comfortable with these injustices. Let them continue.” (And if you find yourself being very vocal about some issues and MIA about others, ask yourself why.)

Learning to take personal responsibility over your own life does not absolve you from your social responsibility.

Your isolated happiness and success does not serve anyone, including you. We are not meant to thrive in isolation. We need each other to do well. If there are people down the street from you that are not well, you’re not well. If there are people across the world that aren’t well, you’re not well. If our Earth is not well, we are not well.

Self-love and self-care will not change the world if we are not also loving and supporting each other. Your personal freedom will not change the world unless you acknowledge the backs on which you stand in order to have that freedom.

Who's freedom gets taken away so that you can experience a liberated life? Who suffers so that you can practice self-care? If you're free and others aren't, are you really free? What is freedom if only a few have access to it?

One of my favorite quotes comes from an Aboriginal activists group from Queensland in the 1970s, where they say:

"If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

Read that again and let it sink in a little bit more.

I write this because my liberation depends on you and yours depends on mine.

And so I have two questions for you:

  1. What change do you really wish to see in your world?
  2. Is your work and/or life supporting that change?

Let me know in the comments below. Let's talk.


Interested in amplifying the impact of the work you do as a coach, healer or leader? I have something really exciting coming up called Coaching as Activism


15 Signs You're A Heart-Led Visionary

Sometimes, you just need a couple nuggets of affirmation to let you know that you're not the only one and you're a vital part of the change-making process. I got you.

1. You see more for the world around you.

You might have grown up wondering why things are the way they are – why they aren't different. The state of the world is frustrating and you know it can be better. You imagine new ways of doing and being everyday.

2. HEARING "THAT'S JUST HOW IT IS" MAKES YOUR BLOOD BOIL.

You can't spend a lot of time around people who are content with the status quo. Complacency and stagnation? You are not about that life.

3. You’ve found a way to cope with the big and small injustices you notice (or experience) everyday.

Whether it's turning off the news and pulling up Netflix, being out on the front lines organizing for justice and everything in between, you have a few go-to strategies for when the world around you gets a bit too real.

4. When you're passionate, you give it everything you've got.

You either dive deep or chill on the sand. There is no in between for you. You don't got time for that.

5. You burn out often because you care so much for everyone else.

You have an expansive heart and with everything going on around you, it's way too easy for you to forget to care for yourself and allow others to care for you. So feel like your brain is fried and you get exhausted or sick. 

6. YOU HAVE A TON OF amazing IDEAS AND find it hard to STICK TO just ONE.

You struggle to put all of your energy into one project, cause or movement because you see the importance in all of them! 

7. You struggle to be present in the moment.

You'd rather be thinking, dreaming and creating what's to come. Focusing on what's happening right now isn't as interesting.

8. You’ve been called unrealistic, naive, ungrounded and/or illogical.

Who you are and how you think can make others uncomfy sometimes. When you expect more from people who aren't willing to expand, they often try to discredit you and put you in your place.

9. You’ve also been called wise, creative, inspiring and/or insightful.

When you share your thoughts, ideas and vision with people who are more inclined to growth, your are often celebrated. These are the people who love, support and uplift you.

10. You can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.

The insight you have can make you feel tremendous responsibility into your life and it can leave you feeling like it's up to you to fix the problems presented in front of you.

11. you get overwhelmed because there's so much to be done. 

And you wonder if what you're doing is enough. (Pssst... it is).

12. You're great at seeing the bigger picture during challenging situations.

When obstacles come up, many of us focus on how the obstacle affects ourselves. You focus on how it affects all that are involved. You care about the ripple effect.

13. You're the designated advice-giver or you take on the role of a mediator during conflict.

When your friends and family have a problem or something they're grappling with, they come to you because you always give them a new perspective.

14. YOU VALUE TRUTH, TRANSPARENCY AND VULNERABILITY (EVEN IF IT SCARES YOU).

It can be tough to live your truth and ask others to do the same in a world that values comfort and safety over vulnerability and connection. You do it anyway.

15. You see the light in everyone.

When most see "damaged goods", you see potential.

 

Which of these spoke to you? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below.