Many of us are familiar with the phrase “Be the change you want to see in the world,” so much so that it has become a bit of a cliché. I’ve been wondering for a while now what else Gandhi said that relates to expressive social change, a concept that is at the heart of our Organization Unbound explorations. So while in India, I decided to do some digging, first at the Mani Bhavan museum in Mumbai and then at the Deer Park library, which has a shelf full of Gandhi-related books, including the five-volume collection of Gandhi speeches, letters, and writings.
I was surprised to discover that there is no record of Gandhi uttering the phrase “be the change you want to see in the world.” It was his grandson Arun Gandhi, now a journalist based in Washington, D.C., who popularized it after hearing Gandhi use it in conversation when he was a young boy.
Also surprising was that in all Gandhi’s writing and speeches, he rarely referred to or elaborated on his philosophy of blending the means and ends in social change work. That said, the few reflections I did come across are quite beautiful in their directness and simplicity. Here is a selection:
“For me, it is enough to know the means. Means and end are convertible terms in my philosophy of life. “ Young India, 26-12-’24, p. 424
“The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.” Hind Swaraj, (1962), p. 71
“They say ‘means are after all means’. I would say ‘means are after all everything’. As the means so the end…There is no wall of separation between means and end. Indeed the Creator has given us control (and that too very limited) over means, none over the end. Realization of the goal is in exact proportion to that of the means. This is a proposition that admits of no exception. Young India, 17-7-’24, p. 236
“The clearest possible definition of the goal and its appreciation would fail to take us there, if we do not know and utilize the means of achieving it. I have, therefore, concerned myself principally with the conservation of the means and their progressive use. I know if we can take care of them, attainment of the goal is assured…This method may appear to be long, perhaps too long, but I’m convinced that it is the shortest. Selections from Gandhi, (1957), pp. 36-37
Without pouring his energy into verbally articulating why it is important to be the change you want to create, Gandhi was able to influence many people to think in this way. He embodied the concept through his activism and way of life, not always perfectly or consistently, but with an enduring commitment.