If you want to change the world you must change yourself first

Two cups of steaming hot coffee, two muffins and a table for two in the corner.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

— Mahatma Gandhi, leader of Indian nationalism

Two cups of steaming hot coffee, two muffins and a table for two in the corner. The stage is now set for an hour of scintillating conversation.

Whenever possible, my friend Dave and I spend Sunday mornings at the local coffee shop solving the problems of the world, swapping a reminiscence or two, spinning a few tall tales and generally enjoying each other’s company.

A few Sundays ago, Dave began our Sunday coffee service with a question.

“Did you know that Joan of Arc was only 17 when she led the army that liberated France from the English?”

I didn’t know that.

“It’s true,” he said and broke a piece off his muffin. “And did you know that Sir Isaac Newton had developed most of his law of gravitation by the time he was 23?”

I didn’t know that either.

“And Mozart.” Dave waved the morsel of muffin in the air as he spoke. “Mozart only lived to be 35 years old but look what he accomplished in that short time!”

This history lesson had to be leading somewhere. I inquired as to his point.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about growing older.”

“And you’re wondering,” I surmised, “if you were destined to do something big — something world changing — shouldn’t you have done it by now?”

Dave shrugged, popped the piece of muffin into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

To be honest, I had been thinking the same thing. Had I done anything significant?

Could I still make a difference?

Was there enough time for me to do something world-changing?

The truth is most of us will never achieve the prominence of these extraordinary individuals, nor should we expect to — each of us is unique and thus will be our contribution.

Nevertheless, many people feel as if they should be leaving a mark on the world — a legacy, if you will.

When I was young I dreamed of doing something extraordinary.

I didn’t know exactly what but I felt that I had a purpose — a reason for being here.

After a few years, it seemed that I would have to be content with merely watching world-changing things happen.

I began to believe I was destined to leave no mark, no legacy — to make no significant difference whatsoever.

Leo Tolstoy, the Russian mystic and novelist, once wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Eventually, when I began to build my self-esteem, I realized that we should never assume our words and action have contributed nothing to improving the world.

Our unique contribu-tion may take the form of being a loving, nurturing parent or partner, an ethical employer, a hardworking and motivated employee, an entrepreneur or a volunteer in our community. Over time it occurred to me that the roles that we approach with integrity, commitment and love make a significant difference in the world, and that over time they become our legacy.

In my own small way, I feel now that I have made a difference.

The more I learned, the more I wanted to share.

As my self-esteem improved and I felt more courageous, I became more will-ing to put myself (and my opinions) out there.

Writing this column and offering a little thought-ful advice each week is one way I help change the world in a modest but positive way.

Would you like to make a difference? I think you already have, but here are some ideas I’ve gleaned over the years from the world-changing people I’ve encountered.

Become a critical thinker. Question everything. Never accept things on blind faith or base your opinions on hearsay. Try to see the world from as many vantage points as possible. Re-member, there are always two sides to every story. Keep an open mind but a wary eye.

Maintain both passion and a positive attitude. A positive attitude will help you through many of life’s challenges.

Always remember, you do not need to have another’s praise to affirm your worth. Know thoroughly and truly your own strengths and weaknesses and don’t lie to yourself; it’s counterproductive. We all have something to say and our voice is meant to be heard.

Use your time wisely. Set goals and pursue them. Don’t waste time talking negatively to yourself. Invest in yourself and your self-esteem.

Help others along the path of life.

Vote. Even today, people are fighting to achieve this great right.

It is a privilege.

Volunteer.

It builds character, helps to enhance your people and social skills, promotes a strong work ethic, improves your self-esteem and helps you see the bigger picture.

Believe in your dreams and in the inherent goodness of people.

Be patient with the young and respectful of the old. Look beyond appearance. Be generous, kind and sensitive.

Count your blessings and be thankful for what you have.

Remember, there has never been anyone exactly like you before.

That makes you unique, precious — one-of-a-kind.

Be conscious of the legacy you wish to leave. We all have only so much time on this earth. Seek to understand the power of love and peace and know no matter who you are or where you come from you are part of the bigger picture and you matter in creating a better world.

Samahria Lyte Kaufman, co-founder and co-director of The Option Institute, once wrote, “Person to person, moment to moment, as we love, we change the world.”

Perhaps your efforts will quietly, unobtrusively change the world around you, or they may explode on a grand scale and become fodder for scintillating coffee conversations. Either way, recognize that your very presence here on earth has made a difference.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca

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