“Be the change you wish to see in the world” has been attributed to Mahatma Ghandi—although that’s not literally what Ghandi said.
Regardless of the words, the quote isn’t simply a suggestion—it is an instruction. Ghandi is telling us that we have the power to change the world by changing ourselves.
This holiday season, I’ve chosen to take that inspiration to heart by deliberately focusing on where I can affect change in a positive way. How? By paying attention to finding actions that create peace and well-being within me and then taking that action for others.
In other words, I’m following The Golden Rule—to treat others as we’d like to be treated.
My first instinct was to brainstorm deliberate acts of kindness—donate to a food shelf; sign-up for another Habitat for Humanity; or volunteer at the local soup kitchen.
But then I got a nudge to do something more spontaneous—real-time acts of kindness. When faced with a decision that includes other people, I can opt to choose in their favor.
I decided that I am going to “be the peace.”
Over the last couple of weeks, here is what I’ve experienced so far:
- Yielding to others. When someone was trying to get into my lane of traffic or waiting to pull out from a side street, I chose to be the car that stops to let them in. I even made it into a game one day: How many people could I yield to? Within 30 minutes, I was up to five, and that felt pretty darn good to me—and probably to those people, too.
- Smiling at strangers. This is easy. Instead of looking down (or at my phone) when people passed me by, I gave them a smile instead. It was just a kind smile—not an over-exuberant toothy grin—but a genuine and warm smile. I didn’t think most people would smile back, but I was pleasantly surprised how many people did (maybe it’s because we are Minnesota nice?)
- Waving in appreciation. Some of the drivers I yielded to waved in thanks. When I lived in Hawaii, this type of “thank you” was very common. I’ve made the thank-you wave in my own car several times and also when I was in a crosswalk. Combine the wave and a smile, and you’ve got yourself a one-two punch of peace!
- Think calm; be calm. On a recent flight, I waited until the majority of the people seated around me deplaned before I did. By doing this, I allowed the man behind me to get to his connecting flight a bit faster; had the opportunity to help an older woman get her carry-on bag from the overhead compartment; and complimented the flight attendant on her attentiveness and cheerful demeanor. A man watching me nodded, smiled, and said, “I like your chill-pill behavior.” He could see the peace in action.
- Have a penny? I was waiting in line at a store when the woman in front of me was a few cents short. As she looked through her purse, I reached into my pocket and gave what change I had. “That should cover it,” I said. “Oh, thank you!” she replied and smiled. But in order to do this, I had to be paying attention—no phone to distract me from her need.
I wonder how many people on the receiving end of these gestures decided to do the same for someone else. Maybe these little acts of spontaneous peace do help change the world one step at a time.
I know that each of them had an effect on me. And if I’m going to be the peace I’d like to see in the world, then it certainly feels like I’m moving in the right direction.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg helps people find better balance in work, relationships, and life—especially during transitions. Find out more at michaelsunnarborg.com
Image: At the Arboretum in Zürich, Switzerland