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Be the Change…

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
September 2013
Be the Change…

with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

I went back to my elementary school teacher’s classroom to help prepare for the upcoming school year. Along with other items, we pinned motivational quotes on the walls.

I’ve been back to this classroom many times since graduating from elementary school, and while famous quotes are rotated each year, one quote has always found its way on the wall: Mahatma Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Now as I prepare to go to college, I wonder about the source of this quote. I would love to use it in a paper, but I just can’t seem to find when and where it was first published.

Dear Friend,

“It is perfectly possible for an individual to adopt this way of life without having to wait for others to do so. And if an individual can observe a certain rule of conduct, it follows that a group of individuals can do likewise.” (M. K. Gandhi, “Equal Distribution,” Harijan, August 25, 1940)

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” (M. K. Gandhi, General Knowledge about Health,” Indian Opinion, August 9, 1913)

The first attributed quote is from a journal (Harijan) that Gandhiji founded as a vehicle for promoting universal trusteeship and social reform. This journal and others that listed M. K. Gandhi as editor were intended to awaken sensitivity in the privileged and hope in the underprivileged. As suggested in the following quote (Harijan, March 31, 1931), the privilege of the privileged is the uplift of the rest of society: “The educated class can justify its existence only if it is willing to sacrifice itself for the mass.”

The second quote from Indian Opinion is closer to the omnipresent “Change” quote, for which there is no reliable source indicating that these ten words are directly attributable to Gandhiji. While it would be smug and easy to say that marketers have made a cottage industry out of T-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, and glossy posters proclaiming some Gandhi-Zen version of these words, one can take a more generous approach: perhaps Gandhiji lives on through the distilled prism of these words; perhaps they have taken on a poetic life of their own; perhaps they have inspired a million Mahatmas from Calcutta to California on a million mugs and in a crore classrooms.

That said, let’s be bibliographically accurate and internalize the arduous journey that led to this well-known “quotation.”

"Respect your teacher and elders, pity the poor, and help the weak." Shri D.L. Dave, September 2, 2012. (In honor of the author's father-in-law, a great soul who passed away in Calcutta on July 31, 2013.)

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj.oza@sbcglobal.net.]

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