Gandhi taught us to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I would like to suggest if there are areas where you could improve, to “Be the change you want to see in yourself.” Often we have things about ourselves that we don’t like and sometimes devise a host of defense mechanisms to compensate. Sometimes it is denial, justification, counter-attacks, etc. I have found that the path to true fulfillment in life is having the awareness of these deficiencies, the honesty to admit them, and the courage to address them head-on. How to attack them is the theme of this blog post.
When I decided to get in shape, I learned how to run. When I started I wore running shoes, high tech sweat-wicking clothes, wore a sweat band on my head, and the strap that holds my iPhone to my arm. While I may have looked like a runner, I was anything but a runner. I sucked. I had poor form, lacked any muscle strength in my legs, and had almost no aerobic capacity. However, I kept at it. I kept going through the motions, day after day, week after week, and month after month. It was unnatural and often painful. Yet over time, I went from 13-minute miles, to 12 minute miles, to 11, to 10, to 9, to 8, to the high 7s. At some point, I became a bonafide runner. I couldn’t pinpoint the moment it happened – but going through the motions over an over, it eventually became me.
I think this is a powerful metaphor for life. If something isn’t natural to us, it is easy to feel like a phony to act in a way that goes against our instincts. I would suggest that we should always strive to do the virtuous thing, even if it feels 100% phony, and keep doing it until it is natural. To add to this, what is “just” and what is “right” is often at odds – we should always strive to do the right thing. Doing the just thing is often easy (and makes us feel really good in the process), doing the right thing is what elevates us as people and transcends our lives.
To give a real example, I once harbored a well-justified hatred for someone for many years. Nobody would blame me for this hatred. Nobody. Yet I was driving home from church and the Gospel reading was on forgiveness. Jesus didn’t say “only forgive the people who really deserve it” but to “love your enemies” and “pray for your persecutes.” And as I drove home from church, I thought, “Crap! I have to forgive this jerk.”
This was my new project – somehow I had to find a way to forgive someone who was not contrite and maybe even boastful. And while it was something that my faith demanded, deep down, I also knew it was the virtuous path. However, this journey felt unnatural. Every fiber of my being rebelled – this was not justice. He didn’t deserve forgiveness. It felt fake. It felt specious, unauthentic, artificial, and illegitimate – but it did not feel ungenuine – because I really wanted to change. I had visualized what it would be like to be a more forgiving person and I wanted to be that person.
Over time, like when I became a runner, the artificial became the natural and I learned to forgive this person. And as an unexpected result, I felt like I was given one of the greatest gifts of my life. I learned about the power of grace. Since then, I have striven to be forgiving. Even after my initial anger over 9-11, I knew I had to even forgive the people who carried out these attacks. My biggest surprise through this journey is that forgiveness is not “forgive and forget” but instead, not letting them control you through your anger. But I would never have learned this had I not made the effort to change the person I was, to change the very core of who I was and change how I largely defined myself.
I once heard a fable about a young man who was madly in love with a young lady. However, he had a big problem. His face was so grotesque that people would shriek in horror when they saw him. Believing that even the kindest and most charitable of ladies would run from him, he devised a plan and had a mask made of a handsome young man. With this mask, he won her love and eventually they were talking about marriage. The deception became overwhelming and he had to come clean – he had to risk losing her so that their relationship could be based on true honesty. However, when he broke the news and took the mask off, her expression didn’t change a bit. “Look at me! I’m hideous!” he insisted. She replied, “No, you are still the beautiful man I fell in love with.” Confused, he ran to a mirror and couldn’t believe what he saw. He wore the mask so long that his face conformed to that shape.
Be the change you want to see in yourself and you may just surprise yourself in who you evolve to be.