“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; Mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
The only person who we can change, or should devote our efforts to changing, is ourselves. In reality, even when we know this on an intellectual level, it’s difficult to enact.
We think “but, what about them, what about the other person…If only they would do this, or do that, then everything would be OK.”
But that’s not how it works, we cannot hinge our success and happiness in life on hoping –or worse yet – manipulating someone into being who we want them to be; hoping that doing so (or them changing) will give us a better life or bring out the “better version of ones self.”
The only person you can change is you!
I saw an article once, on how wives can win back their husbands affections. It was written by a high-class escort whose basic message was to the wives of the men with whom she frequently engaged – and women in general.
The message was (paraphrased), “care for your husbands. They want to be accepted, they want your arms around them as much (or sometimes more) than you want theirs. They need your support, affection, and your soft empathy and compassion.”
While reading her article (though I am not married) I kept thinking “yes, this is exactly what I want out of a loving relationship, out of a marriage,” and I know most (if not all) men would agree with me on this. we want that connection, that intimacy, love, care, and empathy.
However, most women responded to her article by saying “well, if they were at home with their wives instead of with escorts…” or “Well if they focused more on their wives, their wives would give them more of what they want” etc.
The problem is, this article was not intended for men. There are dozens (likely hundreds) of articles directed at men, speaking to exactly those concerns.
But if the men read the articles directed at them and respond with “well, if only she would…” and women read articles related to them and think “well, if only he would…” then neither changes, and they spend their lives miserably trying to change each other while promising that once the other has shown themselves worthy – once the other has changed – then they will change, then everything will be peachy.
Everything those women said was correct (as is often the case in complex conflicts or relational friction) but (though it seems this is an unknown concept in this day and age) two things can be correct at the same time.
Men have responsibilities and needs to fill in the lives of their wives – but the article was not intended for them, it was written to their wives; to the women who should want to do everything they can to build a happy relationship and a happy life with these men.
Imagine for a moment if both parties (both men and women) read the articles intended for them and took to heart the message that was directed to them. Imagine if each decided to do what they could to be the best partner they could be – regardless of reciprocation or expectation of the same from the other? Imagine what kind of relationship that would be.
We can only truly change ourselves, because only we truly know what needs to change.
This type of divisiveness (of always blaming others) plays itself into so many aspects of our lives, especially in in politics.
Imagine if Republicans would take responsibility for their dereliction of promises, or their hypocrisy instead of the childish finger pointing and passing the blame by saying “well, the Democrats…”
Imagine if Democrats cleaned their own house instead of looking across the aisle to point the finger and excusing their wrong actions with, “well, Republicans…”
A wise man once said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
If there was one action that could drastically change the state of a nation or a society it would be if each of us took these words to heart and put them into action.
Very few of us have the power to influence policy, or enact law.
Those of us who do seem to find that, even when we supposedly have that power, we still seem to lack the ability to influence much change, we still seem lack the power or influence to do very much of either.
Yet, if we collectively looked inwards, looked at our own actions and inaction’s, our own hypocrisy.; If we came to terms with our ability to commit great evils and recognize our ability for good, imagine the world we would create around us.
Imagine the homes we would raise our children in if we took responsibility for the things we can change and stopped fretting about the things we have no control over. Imagine the children that would be raised in those homes.
Now, imagine 3, 4, even 5 generations down the road, when this trait has become standard practice, imagine the world that might be. Imagine each person looking inwards to ensure that they are doing what they can for themselves and for their communities.
Each person exercising their liberties and leaving the liberties of their fellows intact.
Each person looking to make themselves a better person, and leave a legacy of contributions made and children raised on responsibility, freedom, and emotional intelligence. If any one thing could change the course of a people, it is this principle.
Jordan Peterson once said something along the lines of the fates of nations being bound in the actions of the most seemingly insignificant individual. This is not because that individual has the ability to (as a dictator) force into law policies of virtue. It’s because as each of us face our daily decisions, we can choose the path of self-ownership, we can choose the path of self-responsibility and through those choices, as a collective, we institute a more virtuous society.
In the end, only a society made up of virtuous and mature individuals can handle real liberty and freedom.
It is our own infantile lack of ownership and responsibility that brings about the need for a monopolistic power to force some semblance of law and morality on us.
If we stopped focusing on how others need to change and instead focused those attentions inward – effectively attending to “the beam in our own eye rather than the speck in our brothers eye” we could begin to set the foundations of a free society.