Mahatma Gandhi advised: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe the key to personal fulfillment is adopting and living every day this simple ten-word maxim.
In my humble experience, little is more corrosive to the soul than hypocrisy. And little is more rousing to the spirit than turning belief into action, no matter how trivial the act. For me, there’d be no point in holding opinions and embracing philosophies if I didn’t live in thoughtful rhythm with my beliefs.
I believe the best way to find personal fulfillment—by which I mean a vibrant sense of leading a meaningful life—is by making how I’d like the world to be not just an abstract vision, cobwebbed and flabby somewhere in my psyche, but rather manifest in all I do—that is, by being the change I want to see in the world, as Gandhi recommended.
Have I joined the Peace Corps, marched in rallies, written my elected representatives weekly, passionately taken up causes—in short, tried to ‘save the world’? Not at all. I don’t have the time, or maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t know which. The first priority of most of us, including me, is saving our own little world: the family, the household, our jobs—and that pretty much absorbs all of our time and energy. But managing my own little world involves thousands of decisions, some trivial and some major. What I try to do is quietly inculcate every choice I make with the change I want to see in the world.
Take the mundane chore of grocery shopping. Some of the changes I’d like to see in the world of food production include: less use of toxic chemicals; a greater portion of the retail value of food going to the farmer; more organic farming; less packaging and more bulk food availability; more emphasis on locally grown foods; and better quality and variety. Maybe I should, but I don’t belong to organizations promoting these changes, I’m not an activist, and I don’t write shrill letters to the local newspaper. I don’t have the time, and I think being the change I want to see in the world will prove more effective anyway. As much as my food budget allows, I make grocery-buying choices consistent with the change I want, like patronizing the local farmers’ market and avoiding highly processed and packaged foods.
How about something not so mundane: Global warming. The changes I’d like to see in the world are: better transit and bikeways; momentum toward meeting the world’s energy needs without burning fossil fuels; and more efficient use of all types of energy. Maybe I’m too selfish with my time, but I’m not inspired to wave signs at rallies promoting these changes—not that there’s anything wrong with that. In middle age, I’ve become an avid biker. The only gasoline I burn in my car is a low-sulfur, clean air formulation. I helped launch a nonprofit car-sharing service in my community that uses only gas-electric hybrid cars. And at home we take advantage of an option offered by our local utility to pay a bit more for electricity while designating that wind turbines generate our power.
Have food production practices changed or global warming slowed because of me? Not measurably. But the cumulative effect of millions of people being the changes they want to see in the world would be powerful. And importantly for my happiness, though I can’t trace specific effects to how I choose to live, following Gandhi’s advice has been a key to personal fulfillment. To me, after all is said and done, I don’t know what I could do that would ultimately be more fulfilling than simply being the change I want to see in the world.
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