Life is about expressing and developing our individuality as fully as possible—it is about self-realization. This process is what I call “human revolution.”
There are many kinds of revolutions—political, economic, industrial, scientific, artistic and so on. But no matter how external factors change, the world will never get better as long as people remain selfish and apathetic. As John F. Kennedy said, in 1963, “Our problems are man-made—therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.”
An inner change for the better in a single person is the essential first turn of the wheel in the process of making the human race stronger and wiser. This “human revolution” is, I believe, the most fundamental and most vital of all revolutions. This kind of revolution—an inner process of self-reformation—is completely bloodless and peaceful. In it everyone wins and there are no victims.
Life is a struggle with ourselves; it is a tug-of-war between moving forward and slipping backward, between happiness and misery. We are changing constantly, but the real issue is whether we change for the better or the worse, whether or not we succeed in enlarging our narrow, self-centered focus to take a broader view.
If we just allow ourselves to be ruled by force of habit, the way we’ve always reacted to a given situation, we will be drawn down the path of least resistance and stop growing as a person.
But if we succeed in challenging ourselves on a fundamental level, we can change from being a person who is buffeted about by the environment or the people around us, becoming someone who can positively influence our situation and surroundings. We actually create the unique shape of our lives by the infinite choices we make each day.
True individuality and character never come to full flower without hard work. I feel it is a mistake to think that who you are right now represents all you are capable of. If you passively decide, “I’m a quiet person, so I’ll just go through life being quiet,” you won’t ever fully realize your unique potential. Without having to change your character completely, you can become a person who, while still basically quiet, will say the right thing at the right time with real conviction. In the same way, a negative tendency toward impatience can be developed into a useful knack for getting things done quickly and efficiently.
But nothing is more immediate, or more difficult, than to confront and transform ourselves. It is always tempting to decide, “That’s just the kind of person I am.” And unless we challenge this tendency early in life, it will become stronger with age. But the effort is worthwhile in the end, as I believe that nothing produces deeper satisfaction than successfully challenging our own weaknesses. As the Russian author Tolstoy wrote, “Supreme happiness is to find that you are a better person at the end of the year than you were at the beginning.”
Human revolution is not something extraordinary, or divorced from our daily lives. It often begins in a small way. Take a man who thinks only of himself, his family and friends. Then, one day, he makes a move to break out of these narrow confines just a little, going out of his way to help a suffering neighbor. This is the start of his human revolution. But this process of human revolution cannot be undertaken alone. It is through our interactions with others that we polish our lives and grow as human beings.
By taking action for, and being positively engaged with others, we become better and more disciplined people. But this doesn’t mean making others happy while ignoring ourselves or our own happiness. The happiness we create as individuals, and the strong bonds we create with each other, result in the happiness of all humankind.
Transforming our own lives at the most fundamental level actually holds the key to changing society. A deep change in our outlook, the inner reality of our life, produces changes in the external workings of our life, in other people, and our community.
I firmly believe that a great human revolution in just a single individual can help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and enable a change in all humankind.
The life of Mahatma Gandhi illustrates this point. As a boy he was painfully shy. He was always worried people would make fun of him. Even after passing his exams as a lawyer, he was still timid. When he rose to present the opening arguments in his first court case, his mind went blank from nerves and he had to leave the courtroom.
But a turning point occurred when he was in South Africa, where Indian residents faced severe discrimination. Gandhi was riding in a first-class carriage on a train, when he was ordered to move to the freight car. He refused, and was eventually forced off the train. In the waiting area at the station, Gandhi stayed awake all night, debating whether he should return to India or endure the hardship of taking a stand and fighting for human rights. He finally realized that it would be cowardice to run from his fears and disregard the needs of people who were being discriminated against as he had been.
From that moment, Gandhi squarely faced and challenged his timid nature, determined to challenge injustice. And his inner change sparked one of the greatest developments of the twentieth century—the movement for social change through nonviolence.
Every single person has tremendous potential that is largely untapped. Through the hard work of our human revolution, this potential can be revealed and we can establish an independent, unconquerable sense of self. We can deal creatively with any situation that life has to offer. This open-ended process enables us to keep growing and developing throughout our lives, and beyond. We will never meet a deadlock on our eternal journey of self-realization.