Changing Yourself vs. Changing the World

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Ilya Shambat

Jan 10, 2022, 1:44:11 AMJan 10
One of Michael Jackson's most famous efforts was a song that went,

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways …
If you want to make the world a better place,
Take a look at yourself, and then make the change.

He was part-right.

Problems have different causes, and they have different solutions. If the problem is with you, then solving it means changing yourself. If the problem is with something else, then that is where the effort should be directed. We have both internal and external problems; and these are resolved through internal or external action.

I used to have a problem of being physically weak. I solved it by doing rigorous exercise. However me working on myself would not begin to solve global warming, federal debt or gender war. These problems are external to myself, and they must be faced and solved as they are.

Working on yourself has two positive effects. One is that it improves you. The other is that it shows other people a better way to live. Both are valid endeavors. When I maintained a good relationship with my former wife after she left me, it was an action with positive effects besides to me and my former wife. There were a number of people who were watching the situation to see how it would go; and for it to have gone well showed them that they do not need to crucify a partner if she should leave them, and that it is possible to solve such problems in a humane and civilized way.

However me, or Michael Jackson, or anyone else, working on themselves will not solve problems such as global warming and federal debt. These problems need to be solved externally to ourselves.

AA's Serenity Prayer says, “God give me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” A Republican candidate in West Virginia wrote on his site, “I am no longer accepting the things that I cannot change, I am changing the things that I cannot accept.” He is right. Some things we should not accept. Some things are not solved by working on yourself but on working on the world. Sometimes you need to change the man in the mirror. Sometimes you need to change something else.

So the wisdom here is the crucial part. And it is very much possible to err in either direction. If the problem is with you, then improve you. If the problem is with something else, then make the change there. For most people there will be a need for both directions. And they will be called upon to have the wisdom to know what to do in what situation.

Ilya Shambat
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