Content Warning: Point #5 contains discussion of sex workers and sexual assault
Wanted: People seeking self-transformation.
Too often people want to change the world, but they don’t want to change themselves. They are more interested in helping others.
Repeat after me: Self-transformation begins with me.
I am the change I want to see in the world.
To achieve self-transformation: be a better person.
Be the Change, Act the Part
To be the change, you have to act the part. Enact the changes that need to be made.
Self-reflection is an important part of making the world a better place. You want to be a better person. We all do. To make this happen, we have to reflect on who we are and what makes us think the way we do.
- Always question your beliefs.
- Don’t make assumptions about other peoples motives.
- Assume people want to and are doing the right thing.
- Be realistic, lean toward the positive, and don’t be afraid to raise an issue when you see one.
- Never assign blame.
First: Always Question Your Beliefs
One of the things that gets in the way of self-transformation are ideas that we take for granted. We think we know something and are sure of ourselves. When someone questions us, we default to denial, excuses, and blame. Alternatively, we ignore the person altogether and label them crazy.
One of the first steps in questioning your beliefs is learning about your life. Understanding where you fit in society is an important step in understanding your beliefs.
Where do your beliefs come from?
How well do you know about a subject?
Why might someone express something different from you?
Getting to the bottom of who you are requires assessing your background. This includes your family and the things that have happened in your life and your family that are remembered. For example, the stories that are repeated and the message that is being sent.
Your background could be the activities you engage in, the type of people that participate in those activities, and how wealth or money influence who is allowed to participate in an activity. Within any activity there are various positions people occupy.
One example is horse shows. At horse shows you have the care takers (one position) that might be young people trying to make their way into the sport but might also be undocumented immigrants being paid under the table by (another position) horse owners or horse farm owners (another position). Then there are the horse riders (another position), vendors at the show (another position), and so many other people who have different levels of income, wealth, and power in the horse show world.
They have a particular language and style. They share this activity, but they share other qualities as well. The aspects they differ on are typically things external to the horse show world. These are things that might lead to conflict if discussed openly within the horse show world. At the same time, inside the horse show world they have other things they might differ on but that are part of the horse show world game. These are complementary differences that give horse showing dynamism and make it competitive. It is a cooperative endeavor where difference is embraced.
Understanding why positions matter helps you develop an understanding of people different from yourself while situating you in a dynamic world. By questioning your beliefs you are better able to work toward self-transformation that can make the world a better place by making you a better person.
If you do not want to take ideas for granted, start thinking about where you are positioned relative to the people nearest to you. Then, work your way up in scale from the very local social groups you belong to and then bring in larger scale collectives into your map of how you are positioned in the world.
This means thinking about your relationships with other people in terms of how they are infused with power. Who is dominant, what is the justification for why that person has authority (e.g. to make decisions)? Why does a person do a particular type of work? Answering these questions requires going beyond your initial answer and questioning it.
The answer to the aforementioned questions is never “that’s just the way it is”. There is always an answer beyond the simplicity.
Don’t make assumptions about other peoples motives.
We all make assumptions. There is a time and a place. However, if we are to be self-aware we have to question those assumptions. Be sure not to impose your feelings on other people. Making assumptions about other peoples’ motives is certain to lead to misunderstandings and unnecessary negative feelings.
Achieving self-transformation is about trusting others. Knowing that their motives are driven by their position relative to others.
When we approach others without making judgements, our world is transformed because it requires that we treat everyone with dignity and respect. Be the change means building a world that affirms peoples’ humanity, treating them with dignity and respect. This is how self-transformation will change the world.
We are all always making assumptions. This is especially so when we are in public. We assume certain people are dangerous, certain places are unsafe, that the dark is somehow more dangerous.
Other ways we make assumptions are about peoples’ motives.
As the old adage goes, when you assume you make an ass out of u and me.
Recently, someone I know assumed that I was breaking a rule in a club where I am a member. The person wagged their finger at me and chastised me in an angry voice.
My response was one of confusion because I was genuinely unsure what precisely the person was upset about. I knew why they were upset but not what assumption they were making. When I realized their assumption it set off a whole bunch of doubts in myself.
Why does this person think so low of me? What do I do to give off this impression that I am untrustworthy? Why would I not be acting in the best interests of this club we are both members of?
It wasn’t that I disagreed with the persons intentions of preserving the best interests of the club. I was upset that this person thinks so low of me as to assume I was engaging in problematic behaviors that were not in either of our interests.
I call this an attempt to regulate behavior.
One of my pet peeves is people who try to regulate the behavior of others. People who try to regulate others’ behaviors are controlling. They think they know best. They think they are right and everyone else is wrong.
At a moment when this person could have asked about their doubts, could have politely remarked on the issue, they opted for angry finger wagging. This said more about what that person’s assumptions and feelings were than about the issue they thought they were raising.
This brings us to our next item…
Assume people want to and are doing the right thing.
Instead of focusing on the behaviors of others, realize your own self-transformation by reflecting back on your own assumptions. Figure out if you are making an assumption. Maybe even start by asking yourself if you are making an assumption.
Self-transformation is all about reflexivity. Examine how your beliefs influence your understanding.
Question what you know. If you are feeling doubtful, angry, contrarian, then wait before speaking. Take a moment to reflect. Why do I feel this way? What assumptions am I making? In the process you will figure out how you can gain greater understanding of someone through calculated, calm, respectful inquiry.
The process of reflection is a practice of learning to understand yourself in relation to others. It is very therapeutic.
Assumptions are baggage. To free yourself of assumptions, you should start with an assumption that people are good, kind, respectful, and trying to do what is best.
In the aforementioned example, I assumed that the angry person was good. By doing so, I was able to understand that the person wanted good even as they communicated their intentions through anger. I even went a step further. This extra step allowed me to understand their feelings toward me.
Be realistic, lean toward the positive, and don’t be afraid to raise an issue when you see one.
There is a contradiction between being told not to make assumptions and then being told to make an assumption that people are fundamentally good. Life is filled with contradiction. It is in the details that we reconcile these conflicts.
To assume one is fundamentally good means to approach life as though people are doing things that work in the interest of all. The transformation of self is about accepting that in order to build a more perfect world, we need to assume people are good and want what is in the best interest for everybody.
This means leaning toward the positive. It also means that we cannot engage in toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is a way people avoid raising issues. Addressing issues is not negative. It is a life affirming practice working to benefit the collective.
Conflict is part of life. Being able to address conflict is a skill that takes practice. Practicing that skill creates a more perfect union. It is a practice of self-transformation.
Effectively raising an issue requires that you do so in direct and clear language. Moreover, when raising an issue it is imperative that you are poised and not accusatory.
When taking issue with something, you want to appeal to the other person. Often, this is through emotions. I would argue this is an ineffective strategy because you want them to be able to make their own assessment of a situation. You do not want to be judgemental.
Be objective with an issue. This harks back to not making assumptions.
Never assign blame.
When we blame people, we are often expressing our own insecurities. Being self-assured allows us to make objective assessments of situations and then forming an opinion. Thus, the final element in self-transformation to be a better person is making sure that you do not assign blame.
There are many examples of assigning blame or making accusations against a person for their intentions. One common example of assigning blame is saying a person deserves to be murdered by the state (aka by police) because “they ran” or “they had a gun.” The assumption here is that the person encountering the police is bad.
To assume someone is bad is to assign blame when bad things happen to them.
Another common example is when a sex worker is raped, sexually violated, or assaulted. People think work in the sex industry means that a person somehow has no control over the conditions under which they engage in sex acts. This is of course objectively not true.
Sex workers ought to be entitled to the same workplace protections and general civil protections as everyone else. They are human first and foremost. Everyone is technically subject to basic civil rights protections. However, in practice they are not due to the uneven application of the law.
Assigning blame is a way of avoiding responsibility.
Something as simple as saying “I’m not racist” could be considered an example of assigning blame. This is because it avoids personal responsibility for creating an world without racism (or at least less racism). It assigns responsibility elsewhere.
Stop looking for fault in others and think about what you can do to transform the world by transforming yourself. Be the change.
We are all responsible for making the world a livable place.
Be the change you want to see in the world is more than a cute slogan. It is a call to action.
Self-transformation is a practice of inward reflection and making connections between yourself and the world you live in.
Take responsibility for yourself and the place you occupy in the world.
You are not alone. Just as you deserve respect, other people exist and deserve respect. It is in your relationships with people, places, and institutions that change is possible.
Responsibility should not be used as a form of blame. Rather it is a personal strength that can be leveraged to support those around you and in your community.
To make the world livable, we need to concern ourselves with self-improvement. Self-transformation is personal and collective. Let’s start with the personal and the collective will follow.