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Make That Change
Peace Begins with Each of Us
Who would have thought that the ideas of a Chinese sage of 2000 years ago would find voice in a 1980s song by an American pop icon? Or, that such a song is needed now more than ever? Such thoughts came to mind after reading yet another article about increasingly contentious public meetings with unruly crowds here in the United States. (I intentionally refrain from giving specifics, so as not to inflame the tension I seek to quell.) Reading such things, it was difficult for me not to get pulled into that emotional vortex.
Until I met Confucius. On Twitter of all places. It was there that I found a tweet by the incomparable Maria Popova, who quotes Confucius as saying1,
“Things have roots and branches… If the root be in confusion, nothing will be well governed.”
What is this root? To get to the heart of the matter, Popova outlines six instructions Confucius gave for a harmonious society. These include2:
First setting up good government in your own states;
But before that, establish order in your family;
Prior to that, discipline yourself;
To accomplish this aim, first rectify your own heart;
To achieve this, seek to understand and describe your inarticulate thoughts;
To make this possible, always strive to learn more.
In short, in order to change the world, first change yourself. Thinking of this, I couldn’t help but recall the words from the powerful Michael Jackson song, Man in the Mirror:
“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”
Events of the last two years have shown how important these words can be. The pandemic has thrown our collective well-being into disbalance. And when we are surrounded by those who lack peace, it is easy to fall prey to the emotional vortex triggered by their discontent. Furthermore, it is easy to overlook the agitation already residing within our own minds and blame our discomfort on them.
We can observe this discomfort simply by engaging in a few moments of mindful breathing. How long is it before thoughts of irritation arise, such as “This is boring!” or, “When does this end?” How long before we experience either mental or physical displeasure? Being alone, without anyone (or anything) to provoke us, clues us in to the understanding that our mind itself tends to generate dissatisfaction. Therefore, we cannot quell our discontent merely by defeating our outward enemies. We must quell our own dissatisfaction from within. Not an easy task, by far, but one worth engaging in if we wish to be more peaceful and less irked by unruly crowds, be they at a public meeting, or at our own dinner table.
We can understand, too, that this unruliness comes from a discontented mind. Seeing others’ dissatisfaction can remind us of the need to work with the person we see in the mirror, ourselves. Working with our own minds is the best way for us to bring about the inner peace we long for. It is also the very foundation of a better, more harmonious world, a truth that is as old as humanity itself.
Popova, Maria. (2021). https://www.brainpickings.org/2021/01/27/confucius-good-government/