There are three quotes that I use to help me understand the people I work with—and to understand myself.
The first is from a Quaker friend: “People are the best they can be at the moment.”
The second has been attributed to Socrates during the trial that would end with his death: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
The third is from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
How are these words helpful?
If you are the best you can be at the moment, and yet dissatisfied with the life you have, can you be hopeful of a better life?
Yes: by incorporating the second quote. Examine the path you took to get where you are. Look at the people, places, and experiences that have helped shaped you. Delve deeply into the role you played, the decisions you made, the opportunities you took or ignored.
The process (what Alcoholics Anonymous describes as a “fearless self-examination”) takes time and should proceed with a trusted, non-judgmental confidante. You will be looking into the darkest corners of your psyche. What makes relationships so hard? What is behind the compulsive eating, gambling, or other compulsive behavior? When you discover the unresolved issues behind the problematic behavior, emotions, and thoughts, it is time to resolve and develop replacement behaviors, emotions, and thoughts.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” We each perceive the world differently. Your perception of the world is a result of the filters of your experiences in life. If you would like a more peaceful world, look inside at the anger or other emotion that makes your life less than peaceful.
Your “fearless self-examination” helps you discover the root causes of your dissatisfaction in life. The work of resolving and transforming is not easy. There are, for example, few people who are not aware of the health risks associated with the use of tobacco products. Yet almost a third of people in the United States continue with this self-destructive behavior—because change is difficult.
And yet, change is the only constant in life. We cause ourselves undue pain by holding onto our dysfunctional pasts.
Be the change.