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

Via Waylon Lewis
on Aug 30, 2011
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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.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & 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, is now available.


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

  1. Virginia A. de Paula says:

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

  2. Mirela Horvath says:

    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.

  3. Anders says:

    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.

  4. […] 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 […]

  5. guest says:

    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.

  6. guest says:

    I see it as respecting the person who originally made the same point.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

  7. rogerwolsey says:

    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.

  8. Peter says:

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

  9. Cindy Wilcox says:

    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?

  10. Arun says:

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

  11. Ashley says:

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

  12. Ashley says:

    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

  13. @drkmbrown says:

    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.

  14. Dan says:

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

  15. Teresa Milczarek says:

    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.

  16. occultfan says:

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

  17. Eddie says:

    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.

  18. Beth says:

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

  19. Don says:

    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.

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

  21. Sonda says:

    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.

  22. Tim says:

    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.

  23. Raj Kumar Jain says:

    " 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.

  24. Raj Kumar Jain says:

    " 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.

  25. Ben says:

    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.

  26. Ben says:

    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)

  27. fred09red says:

    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.

  28. jeff says:

    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.

  29. Angelamorgan000 says:

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

  30. Dipesh Kharade says:

    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.