When you visit places where great suffering has happened, your soul aches. I felt that a year ago when I was in Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp just outside of Munich with two good friends. The place is solemn, and horrific. Over 40,000 people died here, which is, amazingly, a minor blip in the horrors of the holocaust.
“Why does the world allow such this?” I thought. Its easy to just think that Dachua is in the past, but the sad truth is that the present has just as terrible atrocities. Darfur, Congo, Sri Lanka, Burma, Tibet – everywhere, human beings are committing atrocities in the same way they were in Nazi Germany. Some say its part of human nature – I vehemently disagree. I believe its a curse of society. But that begs the question then – are we all capable of committing crimes against our fellow human beings in the right situation?
I told my best friend, William, my fears. We all like to think that we are better than those who committed these atrocities, but in reality, how can we know? It’s easy to blame society – how can one fix it?
“Is our society broken? How can we make change?” I asked him.
“We can force change,” he told me, “change has to come from within. We have to be patient.”
He told me a quote – one that has really helped change my life. It is from Jiddu Krishnamurthy. “To be well adapted to a sick society is not a mark of good health.”
I used to believe that power was the way to change the world. That you had to make it to the top to make a difference. Yet within that was an obvious fallacy, one that, today, has led me away from politics as a career. That to get to the top, to those positions of power, you often have to sacrifice many of your values.
The sad thing is, that it is, in the end, nearly impossible to get to the top, because the top is defined by your present situation. It is un-achievable. Moreover, by sacrificing your values now, you are making it harder to enact change when you can. It’s a vicious cycle, a symptom of a society in which consumerism, environmental destruction, human rights violations, are all accepted as part of daily life.
That is a sick society.
Change can only come from within us. Change has to be in every action we take. If society is sick, then we much work to make it healthy. The power is within us in each and every action that we take.
You can push people – as I often did, trying to force change, or you can do what I’m trying to learn how to do – plant a seed and let it sprout. Lead by example, not by force, and help when you can, but also be patient. Its something that is far easier said than done.
I wasn’t an easy friend – I know. I used to push people towards what I saw as their potential, sometimes with anger, always with the feeling that, inside, it was well-intentioned. There was nothing I hated seeing more than lost potential.
There was also a selfish side. I wanted to believe that anyone who met me, and especially, anyone who was friends with me, would be a better person for it. If I couldn’t even inspire my friends to be better people and realize their potential, how could I change the world?
It’s been a retrospective few weeks. A friend from high school, passed away recently. Though we were never good friends, I still felt sad. My memories with him were mostly positive. Is there anything I could have done to save him, years ago, when I still had a chance?
I want, today, to be a better friend. To focus on what I can control, and to be there for those when they need me. I want to plant seeds – small ideas, hopes, potential – and then let those I meet do what they can to realize their potential. I can’t change the past – and some of those friend whom I pushed too hard, friendships I destroyed, will never be repaired. But I can change myself now, and be a better friend to those around me today.
Instead of lamenting about the past, I will focus on the future. Changing the world.