“Everyone thinks of changing the world. No one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy isn’t suggesting that we give up our hopes of ever changing the world or of leaving it a better place. The aim of everyone should be to put some sort of good into the world and to leave it a better place than we found it.
What Tolstoy is suggesting is that we change our approach. This echoes one of the common themes we hear from Jordan Peterson, who suggests that when we are angry, maybe it isn’t the world that has a problem, maybe it is us.
Have you ever felt so angry about something that you wanted to scream? I felt that way many times last year. Between the Covid19 virus and people expressing different opinions about masks and vaccines, or the election where the divide between Left and Right seemed wider than ever. It was easy to feel frustration and anger at the situation at the world, and the perfect scape goat was someone with differing opinions. Seeing the state of the world and of my country I found myself seething with anger and rage directed at others and I wanted to badly to educate them to my views such that I could show them that I was right and they were wrong.
This was entirely the wrong approach. The moment you have a discussion with those of differing views and tell them that you are right and they are wrong, you lose all potential for a meaningful discourse. This was a perfect time for me to better understand the message of Tolstoy above. I didn’t need to change my views and I didn’t need to change the world, I just needed to change myself, specifically with regards to being more tolerant of others. My hope is that by striving (very much imperfectly but striving nonetheless) I am changing the world by choosing how I think about others, a process that begins with a change within myself.
There are other examples as well: you may be frustrated with the job market where it feels like all employers have it out for you; you may be angry at food companies for making such unhealthy yet delicious food that makes you sick; you may be unhappy in your dating life and feel that every guy or gal is an awful dating candidate and that they just don’t get you. These are all examples of instances where people may wish to change the world but what they really ought to do is change themselves. If you can’t get a job: learn new skills to make yourself a better hire or take the time to really work on your resume. If you can’t seem to get healthy then take the time to exercise, and take the time to educate yourself on healthy eating choices. If you are having trouble dating, rather than railing against the dating pool, maybe you should either look in areas where there are people more likely to be attracted to you, or take a good hard look in the mirror and try to understand what it is about you that dates find repelling – maybe your general attitude and gloomy outlook are holding you back. \
If you want to see change in the world, be the change, and look within to see how improving yourself can improve the world.