“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
I’m sure you’ve seen the above quotation floating around, perhaps slapped on a bumper or printed on a motivational poster. These words are a great reminder that making an impact in the world begins with an inward gaze, and since we are fast approaching National Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17th, I thought this was the perfect little snippet to include in this month’s blog. Being kind to others has proven benefits, both in society at large and within our brains. However, how many of us practice self compassion? If you want the world to be kinder, shouldn’t you first be kind to yourself? Wanting to expand on this idea, I started doing a little research. Finding this quotation was almost too good to be true.
And it turns out it was. After investigating where this catchy aphorism came from, I was surprised to discover that Gandhi never actually said these words. That’s too bad, I thought. I appreciated the sentiment, especially considering what they meant for the practice of compassion. But if he didn’t say these exact words, what did he say?
According to a New York Times opinion piece from 2011, the closest his writing came to making a similar statement is 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.” All right, I thought. These words actually elucidate the benefits of self compassion better than the bumper-sticker quotation. I was intrigued.
I was also mildly annoyed by the author’s subtle cynicism and mockery of the people who find motivation from reading inspirational quotations. Don’t get me wrong. I think the work the piece does is important. The truth is important. But what about kindness? It seemed the purpose of the article was only to highlight the gullibility of certain people. I was now motivated even more to find the context of Gandhi’s words, which the author didn’t provide for his readers. Almost ironically, he neglected to name a source. I had to keep digging.
Initial searches through online forums and blog posts alerted me to the ebook version of The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. After reading a bit, I noticed that the Times author had edited down Gandhi’s words to what was relevant to his discussion of gullibility and our present culture. The most important part that he left out, in my view, was the section that reads “We but mirror the world. All tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body.” Gandhi here brings to the discussion the centrality of the body. Our bodies mirror the world—all the pain, joy, and yes, kindness—in a sort of reciprocal system of good and bad experience. We send into the world what we take in. Self compassion works to increase kindness in the world because of this fact. If you are putting extra goodness into your body, giving yourself what you need physically and emotionally, you will be able to put more good into the world.
Thinking I had finally found something that I could use in my blog, I returned to the main menu of the site. What I saw at the top of the page made me put on the brakes. The first line began “Below volumes form the revised – erroneous – version of the CWMG…” Apparently, the version I was reading was a revision of an older printing of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Whoever had edited the new version had mixed up a lot of the information from the original volumes—whole sections had incorrect titles; large chunks of Gandhi’s writing had simply been deleted. Could I really trust that any information in this work was accurate? If this was the revised version, where could I find the original? Was this Brian Morton’s source? So many questions, some unanswerable. My search continued.
When I finally found a scanned copy of the original, I was elated, but my excitement quickly turned to disappointment. Why was I disappointed? I had thought that my efforts would yield a moment of revelation, but the words were painfully identical to the revised version. I realized that my intentions had not been pure. What began as a search for truth had turned into a desire to impose my truth on others. After looking inward, I glanced again at the page. Just above the previously mentioned passage, it said:
“Furthermore, is it not possible that the very existence of creatures like snakes or the cruelty in their nature reflects our own attitudes? Is there not cruelty enough in man? On our tongues there is always poison similar to a snake’s. We tear our brethren to pieces as wolves and tigers do. Religious books tell us that when man becomes pure in heart, the lamb and the tiger will live like friends. So long as in our own selves there is conflict between the tiger and the lamb, is it any wonder that there should be a similar conflict in this world-body?”
The search for truth should always err on the side of compassion. My desire to find something wrong with the Times author’s argument led me to the truth, but by using negativity as fuel, I was not being kind to my body or my emotional health. I learned my lesson quickly, accepted my mistake, and forgave myself. I realized that kindness to others does not require agreement.
When was the last time you were truly kind to yourself? It turns out if we actually listen to what is said, we can find the truth and address the ills of the world with meaningful effect. We can be kind with purpose, to ourselves and others, while being the change we wish to see in the world. As you do random acts of kindness for others this month, remember to be kind to yourself, too. Get to know yourself. Get to know others. Only then can compassion begin to illuminate the darkness in the world. If you want to learn more about how self compassion can help you be the person you want to be, call Coach Somatics today.
Carol is a physical therapist, a co-creator of Integral Human Gait theory, a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, and a Senior Trainer in Movement Intelligence. Focus, Align, Teach and Inspire! These qualities not only describe her work, but they also describe her presence. She is passionate when it comes to reconnecting learning with human function and health. Carol is in private practice at MontgomerySomatics.com in Columbus, Indiana.