A famous expression wrongly attributed to Mohandas Gandhi, beloved of New-Age types and those who wish to make the world better, is: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
It is a powerful thought, to be sure. And it carries with it the promise that there is always something you can do to make the world a better place. After all, we all have the power to change ourselves, even if just a little bit, even when all the circumstances of our lives seem to conspire against such change.
At the same time, the concept can be usefully reversed. That is: “Change the environment around you, so that it can call forth the change you wish to see in yourself.”
Much of human nature seems unchanging. People typically follow the path of least resistance. When it is easy to be good, or to help others, or to be effective in our own lives and professions, then we tend to do so. When things get tough, a few moral heroes stand out from the sea of ordinary men and women who change with the circumstances around them.
Some might view this tendency and be depressed, losing hope for the future of humanity. I take a different view. It really is a thing of wonder that we can change our very psyches by changing our surroundings. Going out into the sunshine or listening to a favorite piece of music can brighten any mood, even just a bit. Exercising, or stretching tight muscles likewise. Even the simple act of smiling, no matter what your actual emotional state, will release positive neurotransmitters into the brain. In a significant way, we are what we do—and we are what we surround ourselves with.
In the larger sphere, our commerce and business dealings are tremendously affected by the environment in which they take place. The stock market, for example, could only have existed after hundreds of years of often fitful, often random or unplanned development of institutions building one on another. Driving its gestation were influences as different as the Christian ban on usury and the insatiable appetite of governments for more borrowing. And in turn, the stock market makes possible the most fantastical forms of commercial interaction that the world has ever seen—some of them harmful (as we have seen!), but many of them beneficial in that they allow people who have never even met to cooperate for the sake of their mutual prosperity, in new and exciting ways.
My future writings here will (with God’s help) discuss such varied topics as banking and finance, fiction writing (the act of creating new worlds in thought), self-actualization and exercise, and of course politics, which is my major area of study. My specialty is in Comparative Politics, which is the study of how societies are the same and how they are different. Again and again, my field has thrown up essentialist theories of how this nation is inherently different (lazier, more energetic, more benevolent, more violent) from another nation, only to see such theories crumble to dust as more research has revealed new explanations. Those explanations usually turn on differences in institutions. And that gives me hope for the future. When we create new institutions, new ways for people to interact and cooperate, we create new worlds.
If there is a single theme that I hope to explore in this blog, it is this: we have so much power to make ourselves better and to grow, by making our tools and our surroundings better suited to support that growth. So many powerful and subtle effects can come about through a minor change in our environment—whether that is the music you listen to in the morning, the food you eat, the structure of a business, the minute details of tax law, or the way in which we choose our political authorities. And that means that we each of us have so much power to change the world, by finding little ways to tinker with it.
So yes: be the change you wish to see in the world. But also: make the world you wish to support that change. The two feed into each other.