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When They Tell You to Be the Change You Want to See, They Leave Out All the Awkward Parts

·748 words·4 mins

“Be the change you want to see in the world,” they tell you — and attribute the quote to Gandhi. Did Gandhi actually say that? The quick answer is no, other people did later, but he said some similar things. (Incidentally, Quote Investigator is such a great resource for researching those inspirational meme quote attributions. I recommend it.)

But it’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Instead of standing around waiting for the world to change, maybe you could start something yourself. There’s a possibility that if you feel a certain way that others do as well — but they also feel like they’re alone or that change is impossible.

And by stepping up and embodying that change, you may very well find that others join you — that all the same people who want that same change can find each other.

Changing Hopelessness into Antithetical Optimism

A few weeks back, I received one of the best compliments I have ever gotten from a reader:

Whether you have heard this a million times or never at all I think you should know the kind of impact you have on other people. Your writings, your brutal honesty, your perspective and how you can craft a message that would otherwise feel hopeless into antithetical optimism is something that I deeply, from the very bottom of my heart, appreciate and value very much. Thank you.

That last bit in particular hit me hard: “how you can craft a message that would otherwise feel hopeless into antithetical optimism”

That’s what all my writing is about, at the end of the day. My blog posts, sure, but also my novel (and its sequels forthcoming this year). Antithetical optimism that springs up in the face of hopelessness. It was a motivational element that was so deep in my bones that I didn’t even understand it explicitly. That’s how I write, what I’m trying to do every time. They nailed it.

This approach to writing (and finding meaning) is also why I’m exhausted all the time — because it’s hard to do that — but antithetical optimism is also the thing that I want to see more of in the world that doesn’t exist in the quantities that I need it to exist in, so I’m forced to make an awful lot of it myself.

I’ve said before that writing is all a form of coping for me — and that’s what I meant.

Being the Change Sounds Easier Than It Is

That said, being the change you want to see — no matter how you’re doing it — always sounds easier than it is.

Because there are so many real world stressors that just don’t make it into the final cut, the meme-able (and misattribute-able) quote.

The inspirational phrase leaves out the fact that you still have to live in the same world as everyone else while you’re making that change. And not just for a bit, but for years and years.

That if you _do _make any headway that you’ll find yourself encountering many naysayers who will serve as constant irritants. This is true _no matter what __your platform is _(although that’s not the trolls will say). But it’s true. That’s just psychology.

And the inspirational quote doesn’t address how exhausted you become explaining the same basic things over and over again — to the most hostile audience possible. An audience devoted to defending the status quo, and their own insecurities, at all cost.

Yes, no matter what change you are trying to enact.

When they tell you to be the change you want to see, they leave out all the awkward parts. It’s like a beautiful prize without a price tag.

Well, that’s a bummer, right? Why would I say something so self-defeating? What is the point of being so negative?

Well, that’s just it. People take the fact that progress isn’t linear very personally. They experience the natural ups and downs of the process — and the obnoxious forces of social psychology and influence (that will come to you in avatar form as trolls) — and instead of realizing that’s just how it goes, they blame themselves. They take it as a sign that they’re not meant to be that change.

The awkward bits are 100% normal. And I’ve found that a lot of good, sensitive people who have an awful lot of substantive changes to make are scared away from the process — and the world suffers for it.


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