“Be the Change you wish to see in the World.” ~ (Not) Gandhi

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Gandhi was here.

Bonus: Why Gandhi chose not to eat meat.

And: Gandhi’s Top Ten Fundamentals for Changing the World.

From the NY Times, excerpt “Falser Words Were Never Spoken.”

…Gandhi’s words have been tweaked a little too much in recent years. Perhaps you’ve noticed a bumper sticker that purports to quote him: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” When you first come across it, this does sound like something Gandhi would have said. But when you think about it a little, it starts to sound more like … a bumper sticker. Displayed brightly on the back of a Prius, it suggests that your responsibilities begin and end with your own behavior. It’s apolitical, and a little smug.

Sure enough, it turns out there is no reliable documentary evidence for the quotation. The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi 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.”

Here, Gandhi is telling us that personal and social transformation go hand in hand, but there is no suggestion in his words that personal transformation is enough. In fact, for Gandhi, the struggle to bring about a better world involved not only stringent self-denial and rigorous adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence; it also involved a steady awareness that one person, alone, can’t change anything, an awareness that unjust authority can be overturned only by great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence.

When you start to become aware of these bogus quotations, you can’t stop finding them…”

~

Bonus: Gandhi: how to be an effective Activist.

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anonymous Jan 10, 2016 4:04am

I think it came from Sanskrit Shlock…or from Vedas. I don't exactly remember but it is kinda like this –
तत्परिवर्तनं भव यज्जगति द्रष्टुमिच्छसि (Meaning be the change, you want to see in world)..
You can dig in there. I don't remember exact source..But it is definitely one from Sanskrit.

anonymous Jun 23, 2015 7:05am

Very nice article and thank you for the information…..paraphrasing service.

anonymous Mar 18, 2015 7:46am

It’s like the quote, It’s not how much you give, It’s how much you love giving”. I care not who said it, it is the meaning that matters more.

anonymous Oct 30, 2014 2:34am

This is such an old and powerful saying, that almost everyone should know it by now. Moreover, all the people who know this should also act accordingly. http://starlitewaste.com/ has been promoting a lot the idea of environment conservation and the solutions everyone has at hand to start doing so. The world is full of solutions, the market as well. All that people have to do is to put them into practice.

anonymous May 23, 2014 1:32pm

Funny. I always interpreted it as meaning tend to your own affairs and stop telling other people how to live their lives. Guess you can read into it whatever you like.

anonymous May 21, 2014 3:04am

" Be the Change you want to see in the world". Yes , if we succeed to change our self then world shall definitely change for us.

anonymous May 21, 2014 12:26am

" Be the Change you want to see in the world". Yes , if we succeed to change our self then world shall definitely change for us.
It doesn't means that the whole world will change but it shall change in respect to us, such we shall experience.

anonymous Feb 12, 2014 5:26pm

It seems that the quote simply says what it says – like "A journey begins with a single step" We can only really change ourselves, nothing more. If that influence brings about change in others it is the best we can do.

anonymous Jan 11, 2014 5:47pm

Ah, so this was the cribs notes version of the quote? Nice.

anonymous Sep 22, 2013 10:33am

It's not smug at all. It's stating in it's simplest form that change begins at home and to lead by example.

anonymous Sep 20, 2013 3:31am

You say, "there is no suggestion in his words that personal transformation is enough." Yes, yes there is, and a very clear one:
"…We need not wait to see what others do.” This is more than a suggestion but a rather strong statement that personal transformation is enough. I think you need to reread the quote again, maybe several times, because you seem to be translating it into what you want it to say, rather than what it does say. And if one condensed this quote down to its essence, it would be quite accurate to say the implied meaning is: Be the change you wish to see in the world. So yeah, maybe he didn't say those exact words, but that was clearly his meaning, clear it seems to everyone but you. I think maybe you approached this with your own agenda and missed the point.

anonymous Sep 14, 2013 10:18am

The quote provided is more substantial, interesting, and useful as it is.

anonymous Sep 9, 2013 3:52pm

I want be the change I wish to see in this world, but in order to help poor people I need win money in a lottery.

    anonymous May 23, 2014 1:38pm

    It only takes a dollar and a dream! (NYC Lottery Slogan. Quoted from a NYC subway ad)

    To lose both! (Graffiti on NYC subway ad)

anonymous Sep 4, 2013 9:31pm

I don’t care who said it. I think it’s a wonderful quote regardless.

anonymous Aug 3, 2013 8:01am

The inaccurate Ghandi quote actually DOESN'T mean that it starts and ends with you. That's something some appear to have read into it. It means the same exact thing as the original – that we can start with that. That we can start by becoming involved in what we care about changing.

    anonymous May 15, 2014 6:09pm

    Absolutely what drkmbrown said. I take the quote to mean “lead by example”, “don’t be a hypocrite”, and so on. Plus it’s a bit snappier than the Ghandi you quote.

    Seems odd to have your own dubious interpretation and then criticise that.

anonymous Jul 23, 2013 1:19pm

(sigh of relief) Thank You!!!!!!!

anonymous Jun 27, 2013 2:14am

crap ! hanging on silly word meaning .. see the big picture mr author

anonymous May 28, 2013 10:24am

Truer words were never spoken. Hats off to you Gandi.

anonymous May 10, 2013 2:14pm

Amen! This ties into my earlier article on Elephant "Spiritual But Not Give a Damn?" that seeks to convey that we aren't truly/fully spiritual in isolation. It's a collective thing.

anonymous May 2, 2013 8:41am

[…] […]

anonymous Apr 22, 2013 11:03pm

It just seems like someone was trying to paraphrase Ghandi. It wasnt that far off. Cut them some slack Waylon. No need to be tense about it.

anonymous Apr 15, 2013 6:56am

[…] action against tyranny and political discord (as Waylon Lewis of Elephant Journal points out, the veracity of that quote is questionable to begin with). I find it irritatingly ironic that when calling for a radical re-imagining of politics—one […]

anonymous Apr 4, 2013 12:07pm

Talk about having nothing better to write about. First of all, getting stuck in that kind of details would only make Ghandi himself laugh. This is nothing but your own ego talking and your desire to be looked at as smart. Second, you're actually wrong since the quote doesn't at all imply what you're saying it does. Ghandi is famous for his view on holism. That's probably why he also said: "The one contains the many and the many contains the one", i.e. change yourself to the better and your actions will change the world. It's happening as we speak. You'd probably know that if you weren't so busy writing dumb articles that doesn't contribute to anyone but yourself.

anonymous Apr 4, 2013 1:54am

To be honest, the first time I came accross this quote was while watching Prison Break (it was on Michael's grave stone). It had a huge impact on me as this is a principle that keeps me going, drives my ambitions both professionally and personally. Later on I discovered it is attributed to Ghandi. As most of you mentioned above, it doesn't matter who said it or the context, the most important thing is that makes you reflect on it.

anonymous Mar 21, 2013 7:54pm

It does matter who said the quote. Respect is important. To change what somebody else said and use his name is disrespect.

    anonymous Apr 22, 2013 11:06pm

    I see it as respecting the person who originally made the same point.
    A rose by any other name …

anonymous Mar 19, 2013 5:55am

okay so…as long as one puts…'from', at the beginning…no special permission needed. thanks….enjoyed the article.

anonymous Mar 19, 2013 5:53am

do u know brian morton??? u seem to think very much alike..

anonymous Feb 23, 2013 5:54am

I have to totally disagree with the writer. This quote does not suggest that your responsibilities begin and end with your own behavior. It actually suggest that if you would like to see a world that is kind and compassionate, that you must find that compassion and kindness inside yourself first, and then let it out into the world, by treating others with compassion and kindness. And if everyone were to take the same action, we'd have a kinder and more compassionate world.

anonymous Feb 19, 2013 12:30pm

[…] how useless it is to expect people to lift themselves up from the mire of ignorance. Or I could do something positive to advance good research habits, including educating myself and sharing that experience with […]

anonymous Jan 13, 2013 11:52am

Maybe it is a loose translation of what he once said. In any case, it makes people FEEL better to know that he said it and how can THAT be wrong? Whether he said it or not, it IS something that makes people think about. Inspire GOOD change,,, not BAD. 🙂

anonymous Jan 10, 2013 11:12am

[…] […]

anonymous Jan 5, 2013 12:28pm

[…] NOTE: Frequently misquoted—especially on bumper stickers—more succinctly as “Be the Change you wish to see in the World.” […]

anonymous Dec 28, 2012 5:42pm

[…] we want to be different in the world. As Gandhi is supposed to have said (but apparently might not have): “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.”Since I will soon be leaving […]

anonymous Dec 21, 2012 10:26pm

[…] apparently Gandhi may not have actually said that famous […]

anonymous Dec 21, 2012 10:04pm

[…] apparently Gandhi may not have actually said that famous […]

anonymous Dec 21, 2012 9:50pm

[…] apparently Gandhi may not have actually said that famous […]

anonymous Dec 14, 2012 4:59pm

[…] […]

anonymous Dec 11, 2012 11:30am

In no way does the quote imply that personal change is enough, all it says is "Be the change you wish to see in the world" not "Be the change you wish to see in the world and that's all you have to do" that'd be like if I said "I would like a sandwich" and someone inferred it as "I would like a sandwich and nothing else ever."

anonymous Nov 11, 2012 5:06pm

[…] “Be the change you want to see in the world” (Gandhi or NOT) […]

anonymous Oct 19, 2012 5:45am

[…] Gandhi here with “Be the change you wish to see in the world” but I would have both Waylon Lewis at ElephantJournal and the NY Times arguing that Gandhi did not actually say that, so I will refrain with my apparent […]

anonymous Oct 19, 2012 5:44am

[…] Gandhi here with “Be the change you wish to see in the world” but I would have both Waylon Lewis at ElephantJournal and the NY Times arguing that Gandhi did not actually say that, so I will refrain with my apparent […]

anonymous Oct 19, 2012 4:58am

I'm with P. Avion and Jacky. It's close enough. I just watched the Gandhi film the other day and marveled at how much this one man had impacted the world in his small lifetime. He truly was the change he wanted to be in the world and I think the quote should stand.

anonymous Sep 27, 2012 2:47pm

[…] […]

anonymous Sep 19, 2012 2:38pm

[…] can “be the change” (which is so true, so true, but sometimes I’m so sick of hearing it. Can someone else be the […]

anonymous Sep 18, 2012 3:28pm

[…] Gandhi’s famously misquoted advice, let me try to “be the change I want to see in this […]

anonymous Sep 7, 2012 1:28pm

[…] is often misquoted as saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. According to Elephant Journal, the closest thing he said to it is: If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world […]

anonymous Sep 7, 2012 10:07am

when you Waylon have accomplished something, then you can speak that way. the great gandhi is no longer around to defend himself. i'm sure if he was, he would be grateful for others promoting such words.

    anonymous Nov 12, 2012 9:35am

    erm, waylon didn't write this. it says right there at the top of the article: "From the NY Times, excerpt 'Falser Words Were Never Spoken.'" no need to go hating on the brother – he's just sharing an article he thought readers might find of interest. and i do. because putting words in the mouth of a profoundly eloquent man or woman isn't right. say what one will about gandhi, the dude could write and speak beautifully. apparently he did not say this. and with his level of intelligence and articulacy (see: "I like your Christ…"), if he wanted to say it or write it, he would have said it or written it. i'd rather be clear on what he DID say, than go around believing he said something he didn't. so thanks, waylon, for sharing.

    anonymous Jul 23, 2013 1:20pm

    I don't think he was putting it down . . . he was taking the time to clarify since we seem to have gotten a bit wrapped up in our own heads . . . . 🙂 I assume he would prefer his message was received with thoughtfulness, not swallowed whole

anonymous Aug 8, 2012 4:42pm

[…] it’s meant to serve as a reminder that although we often get accustomed to things as we think we know them, it is sometimes enlightening to see these things—or in this case hear them—from a different […]

anonymous Aug 6, 2012 2:38pm

I dig the research and clarification on this, BUT wouldn't you say there's something a bit smug about the fervor which this writer seeks to debunk a phrase that is, nonetheless, a fine paraphrasing of one of Gandhi's central ideas?

There's also a deceptive "apples to oranges" slant to the editorializing here, by comparing a phrase to a paragraph.

Let's do a one-phrase side-by-side, shall we?

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change."

I.e.: By changing ourselves, we could change the world.

"Be the change you want to see in the world."

Now that's not so difficult, is it? : )

    anonymous Aug 13, 2012 6:48pm

    I agree completely P.

    If you ever stopped to consider how small and illegible the full quote would be on a bumper sticker, you would have realized why it is commonly paraphrased.

    Just save the pointed joke about the stereotypical "smugness" of Prius owners for the comedy club. The only thing the author has called attention to is their own misguided self-satisfaction.

    Everyone has to get their story, right? You just should have kept searching.

    anonymous Mar 19, 2013 4:00am

    Agreed, it's just paraphrasing, the message is still the same. If you have an ideal what the world should be, get in there and do it! Don't wait for others to start a trend. Instead of escaping from the world and complaining, it is on you to become the change you wish to see in the world.

anonymous Jul 19, 2012 8:28am

Interesting stuff. I agree with you an am glad that you've pointed this out. While I can see where others are coming from that have been rubbed the wrong way by this entry, I mostly see it your way. When looking at the actual quote, it's much more meaningful. And, it just seems stupid to trivialize anything Gandhi may've said on a fucking bumper sticker.

anonymous Jul 19, 2012 6:47am

I cannot agree with you: the quote doesn't suggest responsibilities start end with your own behavior – its your interpretation.

There's really no need to be an arrogant prick. I just cannot call a person who would embed such a meaning to such a beautiful quote.

Quotes don't realy require elaborating on, the are always straightforward for inteligent and kind people.

    anonymous Aug 23, 2012 3:10pm

    True, the quote was totally misinterpreted. It suggests that if a person sees the need for change, they are free to try to change that part of the world/life/etc. that is available to them. Not that one person can change the entire world alone. One wonders if Mr. Lewis is purposely misstating it or if he is really that obtuse.

    anonymous Jan 5, 2014 1:07pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. I'm not so much sure he was being an arrogant prick as simply reading his own assumptions into the saying. I remember a passage I read once, attributed to Buddha (perhaps erroneously), that one does not need to go out into wilderness and beat the brush looking for a wrong to make right, or a poor soul to save, but rather staying on your path you have chosen will soon enough present you with enough opportunities to assist humanity without being one of those annoying 'I think you should do' activists.

anonymous Jul 9, 2012 4:37pm

[…] […]

anonymous Jul 1, 2012 4:43pm

[…] the change you wish to see in the world” – Anon Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Motivation and […]

anonymous Jun 19, 2012 4:57pm

"it also involved a steady awareness that one person, alone, can’t change anything, an awareness that unjust authority can be overturned only by great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence."

You are not making a justifiable connection in these statements. A single person being unable to overthrow an entire government is not the same as being unable to make any change at all. Many many individuals made worthwhile contributions to regime change historically. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn't born with a following.

anonymous Jun 5, 2012 2:00pm

[…] It doesn’t take much to make the world a better place. Common courtesy goes a long way. And you never know when you might be on the end that needs that helping hand. Set an example for the children of today by teaching them the values of tomorrow. […]

anonymous May 28, 2012 10:37am

"A smile don't cost nothin' sugar." -Mahatma Gandhi

anonymous May 15, 2012 3:53am

In a way, men are also not as easily sexually objectified as women, physically.Studies have shown that the main 4 sexually attractive bodyparts in the world are breasts, penis, butt and feet. Everything else is way far behind. I dont recall if butt is only really the female butt or not.

anonymous May 14, 2012 2:42pm

Are you fluent in Gujarati? Have you read everything he wrote? Maybe this is a translation issue, not a matter of whether he said it or not.

anonymous May 14, 2012 6:50am

“Be the ball.” – Ty Webb (Caddyshack)

anonymous May 8, 2012 4:50pm

I agree that it is an excellent idea so who said it is hardly as important as the liberating and inspiring message it contains.
For the pedantic and detail obsessed that are more caught up with the Who than the What – here's one for you "While it may be true a single man can't change the whole world, he sure can get the ball rolling." –Pete Caldwell
Feel free to quote me as often as you want. The rest of us will get on with actually being the people we should be to inspire others with not only words – but actions too! 🙂 🙂 🙂

anonymous Apr 17, 2012 6:28pm

[…] […]

anonymous Jan 18, 2012 10:18pm

[…] Fighting censorship, saving the environment, changing the world. […]

anonymous Jan 15, 2012 6:38am

the Goethe misquote about boldness is pretty pervasive

anonymous Jan 14, 2012 8:20pm

[…] Your favorite Gandhi quote? He never said that either. […]

anonymous Oct 15, 2011 12:09pm

[…] The plot is just silly and unfeasible. Not to mention the whole thing seems to be based off of an incorrect Gandhi quote. Gorgon Reviews, helping you avoid bad movies, and fix your quote […]

anonymous Sep 2, 2011 4:18pm

Didn't NYT also publish a quote about Gandhi having an affair with a German body builder? Blah blah, like I care what the NYT wants me to believe. Might as well watch FOX. One person can't change the world? How does change start then?

anonymous Sep 2, 2011 4:30am

does it matter who said it? it's still a GREAT quote.

    anonymous Jun 18, 2013 1:52am

    I agree, whether Gandhi said it or not, the message to me means: if you want to see change in the world, get involved and help bring about that change. If people don't do that, how does anything ever change?

anonymous Aug 31, 2011 10:04pm

Don't even get me started on famous "Native American" quotes…

anonymous Aug 31, 2011 10:36am

Love this!

anonymous Aug 31, 2011 10:07am

You just harshed my mellow. -Gandhi

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.