How Can We Change the World?

We could say that almost all social or political movements have started with a good motivation. You know, capitalism or whatever it may be. But sometimes our intention of starting such a movement, or being active in a certain area, goes awry –– we get carried away. And then we become part of the status quo. We may become part of the problematic institution we’re trying to change. When that happens, people on both sides of an issue become pretty much the same, equally impatient and aggressive, even if we are putting out different messages.

We may have different labels and taglines for what we’re doing, but whenever we become very aggressive, and then become impatient, then we actually have become part of the status quo. Instead of helping to develop a solution, we become part of the problem.

How can we engage in politics or social activism without getting stuck in aggression?

Political activism and social movements don’t always have to end up in aggression and constant impatient disagreement. It really doesn’t have to be that way. We just need to stay close to our original motivation.

We can think back to when we first started working for a good cause. Maybe it was in someone’s garage, or around a bonfire or something. At the beginning there is so much heart in that, so much enthusiasm and love. There’s this genuine desire to change something for the better, and a very real sense of wanting to be part of making that happen.

But then later it becomes a job, and you lose focus. Instead of remembering why you started this whole project in the first place, instead of moving forward with that genuine motivation, you’re just trying to please somebody else –– your constituency, your boss, your nonprofit organization. And then the whole thing loses its original heart of excitement and curiosity, the very qualities that could lead to discovering how to make things better.

At the same time, we need to keep our sense of perspective.

I always recall this statement by the 16th Karmapa. It was during the peak of the nuclear arms race, during the Cold War, and at that time somebody asked him, “What is the world coming to? At any time there could be a nuclear strike by Russia on the US, or by the US on Russia!” They said, “This is the worst time in history,” and so on.

And when the translator had finished translating this question, the 16th Karmapa burst into big laughter. Then he said, “The world has always been like this.”

So I always try to remember that. It’s not that we should try to deny anything that’s happening now. But we must also remember that the world has been in a similar situation many times, and that at some times it may have been much worse, such as during World War II or other kinds of disasters.

There is some truth about our struggles, our challenges, and the changes we encounter. With each new US government administration, we go through this. Some time ago, we thought it was the worst it had ever been. And some people thought the last eight years was the worst time ever. It keeps changing, and we keep thinking, “This is really the worst.”

How to keep calm in the midst of political unrest

In order to make a difference in the world, however, we have to be calm. We have to see that, whether on the right or the left, there’s so much talking. It can be very disturbing to try to listen to everything that’s being said.

It’s the same with our family, isn’t it? If you listen to everything that everybody is saying about our family –– inside the family, outside the family, everybody talking about your mom, his mom, and this one or that one’s brother and sister –– it drives us crazy, you know? Totally crazy. It’s worse than the unrest in our country because it’s so close to home. In the same way, I think it’s very important for us not to watch the 24-hour news and not to watch all that’s on social media all the time. It’s not helpful.

You can get all of the news you really need, in four minutes. But the other 23 hours and 56 minutes of news is just like listening to our family members talking about each other. You listen to your mom talk about your sister, you listen to your sister talk about your mom, and then the brother and uncles, nephews and cousins talking. And at the end, you don’t even know what’s going on with your mom. You think, “Do I really know my mom?” or “Are they really talking about my mom?” It can get very confusing.

So we need to balance ourselves, before we can balance the country or the world. If we ourselves are not balanced, we definitely can’t help others find balance. We need to find our own center, to stand up head and shoulders together, in a balanced way, so that we’re not falling way over to the right, or way over to the left.

If we do that, then we can begin to discover ways that all of us can contribute and change the world, to make our world a better place to live, for all creatures.

Finding inner balance, educating the heart

These days we have a lot of very powerful tools such as the Internet, through which we can organize a positive grassroots movement through education. If we’re going to find balance, I think working with the mind is the most beneficial thing for everyone. Through education we begin to recognize the great importance of inner balance, and once we ourselves find balance, we can begin to bring balance to the outer world.

The good news is that we can learn how not to be thrown off-center by all of the different things happening around us. There are so many tools we can use to work with our mind, to work with our frustration, anger, ego, and all of the disturbing states that give us trouble.

We can use these tools to help ourselves see with greater wisdom and clarity. Once we have developed this ability, we can use these tools to help others change their perception in a positive way. And if we can raise awareness in their minds, if we can bring education to their hearts, through wise and creative use of the Internet and other tools we have available, then the world will turn around.

These changes will take place one by one, of course, not all at once. In many political situations today, you can see how things have changed with lightning speed, and it may seem difficult to keep up with all that’s happening. But there is so much power in communication, in bringing forth what you want to share with others.

We can remember how much power there is in our genuine motivation and our heart of kindness. When we communicate with a sense of centeredness and balance, with genuine love, with a sense of generosity and joy in giving, then we’re not just trying to change someone’s ind. Instead, when we share, we are opening up the space for others to make their own choice about what we are sayin

Tips for Changing the World: An Exercise

For any change you wish to make in the world, it is important to keep a clear intention and a sense of balance. As we engage toward a positive change, we can step back now and then to gain perspective.
1.     Remember your original motivation, excitement, and curiosity. What were you feeling when you first set out to assist this change? What excited you about it? What did you wish to accomplish?

2.     Be aware of the tendency to exaggerate. Have you ever exaggerated a problem or someone’s role in that problem? When you look more objectively at the situation you’re hoping to improve, what do you see?

3.     Work toward positivity, so you don’t get stuck in negative thinking. What is your positive motivation for engaging in this cause? Why are you likely to accomplish this positive result?

4.     Keep a sense of perspective about the world situation. Knowing that great challenges have arisen throughout history, how can you bring a sense of perspective to the situation you’re hoping to change?

5.     Don’t listen to everything in the news––4 minutes a day is enough. Is this something you already do? If not, would you like to try limiting the news you hear to 4 minutes a day? You could try it for a day or a week as an experiment.

6.     Find inner balance before you try to bring outer balance to the world. What do you do to keep your inner balance? How do you take care of yourself –– with exercise, meditation or some other creative practice? How does a sense of inner balance help you? What happens when you lose touch with it?

Use communication tools positively. Reduce reactivity and spread wisdom. Do you find it a challenge sometimes to use email and social media in a positive way? How do you point out a problem without becoming reactive? What do you do to reduce reactivity and spread wisdom?


The teachings presented in this article were originally given by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche in Seattle, Washington and Taipei in 2016, and in San Antonio, Texas in 2018.