Be the change

What do extreme feminists, communists, and religious fundamentalists have in common? They all have view of humanity that is disconnected from reality. Their fatal flaw is that they pretend that people are what they would like them to be, rather than acknowledging them the way they are.

Gandhi famously said “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” This hopeful and inspiring vision perfectly encapsulates my moral system. Individuals should treat others with respect and consideration in all areas of life and must consider the larger effects of their actions, not just their own selfish desires. Society should exhort individuals to aspire to a high standard, and must find ways to do so while still respecting individual freedoms.

I do not believe that it is possible to build such a society though, if we begin from a flawed understanding of ourselves. Some, including the aforementioned extremists, would rather bury their heads in the sand than acknowledge the world’s imperfections. Human nature is what it is—a mixed bag of traits that can inspire both admirable and abhorrent behavior. Women and men alike have selfish tendencies that do not lend themselves to the endeavor of building a just and harmonious world. Men’s warlike nature and desire to control women are particularly destructive obstacles; this is why empowering women is one of the best ways to increase justice in the world. However, we cannot hope to make the world a better place if we pretend that we are something we are not. We must understand our strengths and our weaknesses if we hope build a society of actual people rather than imaginary ones.

To be the change we wish to see in the world, we cannot shrink from the world, or pretend that it’s already perfect. Rather, we must confront the world in all its beauty and ugliness, and face unafraid the challenges that face us.

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