“Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
The most common interpretation of this quote is fairly simple: If you take issue with the way the world works, make it your purpose to change it by embodying the change. By changing your habits, you are 1 person closer to achieving the big picture change you seek. By changing yourself you will change the world. Be the change.
Maybe this is exactly what Gandhi meant. I have always read it like this. Until today.
Today, I was meditating on the concept of change in our lives. How we are ever changing beings. I was meditating on identity. How I define myself as a certain type of person who does certain things and belongs to certain groups. I am a waiter, who smokes, and is a christian. I was meditating on how in the process of identifying myself to myself I am inevitably creating that reality, I become more the person I believe myself to be in the process of believing my self to be that person. Choosing an identity guarantees that you become that identity (if you believe it long enough).
Self help gurus use this concept all the time, “If you want to be successful, you have to get into the attitude of success. To be successful, you have to embody success, be success, everywhere in your life.” -Random and Completely Useless Self Help Book
“Committing yourself is a way of finding out who you are. A man finds his identity by identifying.” -Robert Terwilliger
Here is the problem with identity. Identity is fixed, it is stable, it is something that does not change. But people are not stable, people are not fixed, we do nothing but change. We change every moment of every day, our life of changing experiences changes us along with it. I am today not who I was yesterday. Yet we really love to define ourselves in a very fixed way.
In a way, we are not who we say we are. We are what we do. Or said another way, our actions define who we are because we are the ones doing them. By doing anything, you are directly expressing yourself. If you take that idea further you realize that there is no ‘you’ separate from the ‘thing you do’. You do the thing, and the thing you do defines who you are. You and the thing you do are one. The thing you do, is you. Said another way:
“The doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
If we take this as true, then we realize that creating an identity – deciding who I am – is a lie. Because our identity does not always coincide with our actions. I say I would love to go to the park with you because I love parks, when really I am just doing it to be nice and keep you company. You define me as a park-goer, but I define myself as simply a nice person. So who am I? Which reality is true? The only truth, is that I went to the park with you. I am neither the park lover, nor am I a nice companion. I am simply someone in the park. The ‘why’ has no part in the reality, the reality is the act itself and not its interpretation. So in the process of identifying myself as ‘a waiter, who smokes, and is a christian’ I have totally underestimated everything I am (everything I do) and driven myself into a tiny corner. And if I truly believe I am in this corner, then that is all I will ever be.
“Identity is theft of the self” – Estee Martin
Finally, we come back to the original point. Maybe what Gandhi was getting at was deeper than just, ‘do the things you wish would happen’. Maybe Gandhi was challenging us to be our full ever-changing selves. To stop trying to identify as one person or another, as a member of one group or another, as a person with certain habits or others. But to just be. Just be ourselves. Do all the things that we do and let those actions define us, instead of our words, instead of our ideas about ourselves.
Our limitless actions and reactions make us limitless beings. Why corner ourselves into an identity? Why steal all that possibility from ourselves by identifying? Be change. Be the change. Be the changing being that you are.
If you wish to see your world change, be the changing being that you always have been and always will be. Just be. Ditch the identity.