My son is young (soon turning 21), and he wants to change the world.
He cares about the many things around him that could be better. I love that he cares.
I remind him of Gandhi’s phrase “Be the change you want to see happen”. My son agrees with the principle, but how does one do that?
How do we shift the dynamic in our relationships, so that they become more of what we want them to be: generous, supportive, creative, exciting?
My son is talking about a tense moment with his friend, earlier in the day. It’s not just ‘the world’ that he wants to change. He wants to change the aftertaste from that tense moment, because it’s still unresolved, still nagging at him.
He wants to ask his friend to act with greater care. Behind his words, I pick up on something else. Someone close to us can feel like an extension of ourselves, a reflection of us, of our values, our views. The discontent my son is feeling at his friend is also causing a conflict within himself. His loyalty, his sense of kinship with his friend feels at odds with his disapproval and disappointment. “This is my friend, and yet he sounded not at all like a friend, in that moment.”
I invite him to imagine how he could show up in that relationship, bringing the kind of sensitive care he’d want to see the other party bring. Leading by example.
He draws a blank.
Do you get moments like that? When you’d like to steer the course of a conversation for the better, yet find yourself at a loss as to how?
Or maybe you’re reflecting back on a conversation that hasn’t gone so well, and feeling unsure how you could approach it differently next time? Or how to bridge the gap that seems to have opened up, how to come back from a tense moment?
There is a secret, invisible step that we so often overlook. It belongs in the domain of psycho-logic: we struggle to make headway without it, yet standard logical thinking fails to reveal what is missing.
I invite my son to take an action in his imagination, an action that can happen right now. He’s open to try it.
I tell him to imagine the scene of that tense conversation, as if he were watching it from across the road.
See the ‘you’ in that moment in front of you, see that ‘you’ feeling a bit flustered, perhaps speaking in an agitated way…
Now imagine walking up to that ‘you’ and giving this rattled ‘you’ a big generous hug.
My son goes quiet. Then he says, “That’s hard to do”.
Yeah, I get that. Offering yourself that big warm unreserved acceptance can be hard.
If you, dear reader, have such a situation nagging at you right now, give this a try. See if you can offer a hug of acceptance to yourself. It’s a very powerful, daring step to take.
I say to my son, "This is worth the courage it takes, because once you’ve given yourself that hug, you’ll be able to offer the same to your friend."
I can ‘hear’ him smiling down the phone line.
“Suddenly, I know what I want to say to my friend: “I want to be here for you.”
I feel instantly the transformative power that saying this could have for the dynamic, the vibe between the two of them.
I didn’t tell my son a pre-scripted thing to say. He found his own words. What’s more, he knows the place inside him now from which he can say these words, owning them as his own.
That’s the pivotal moment, when we find within us a mode of poise and generosity, when we can offer generously instead of demanding from the other.
This shift, when it happens, can transform a friendship, a marriage, a situation at work. It transforms our role in the exchange: from a critic into a source.
When we show up as the critic, the other person will probably draw back. It’s human to want to put distance between ourselves and a critical, demanding voice. When instead we come offering warmth, it is the most natural thing in the world to want to come closer, attracted by the warm smile of acceptance shining through us.
My son gets all this, drawing on the illuminating experience inside him just now.
“So that’s how we change the world?”
My son is connecting his experience just now to the question he opened with.
It’s the best way I know how.
You change the world by being more you, by being more of you.
You are beautiful. You are enough.
The paradox is: you change the world by accepting yourself.
May your day shine.