A simple aphorism sums up much of human wisdom from antiquity to today: Be the change you’d like to see in the world.
This encompasses the Golden Rule, the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, and countless other traditions.
Like many simple things, achieving it requires a great deal of refinement and practice.
I’m far from the mark myself.
Recently a combination of readings made this idea resonate more strongly than usual for me.
First, I’ve been working through a stack of books on the Roman Stoics such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius and their philosophic ancestors in Greece, primarily Plato. These schools of thought encourage scrutiny of the things before us, which allow a more objective perspective on justice or the moral good.
Second, I’ve been reading contemporary thinkers on sustainable, community-based, environmentally friendly life. I’m currently making my way through Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. Next up will be Small is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher.
The confluence of these thinkers is rather striking. Once we scrutinize the things around us, we realize that, while we can’t choose the reality around us (the Stoics in particular believed in destiny), we can scrutinize that reality and choose how we act. The question is, what kinds of choices?
That’s what brought me to ‘be the change you’d like to see in the world.’
I think that Schumacher and McKibben point to some better alternatives than the default settings in America’s society, which currently sends most of its resources to hedge fund managers and corporate executives whose relationships with our communities are mostly abstract and involve maintaining profit margins.
I’ll write again after reading Schumacher, and perhaps a bit more of the ancients.