One Less Rascal in the World

November 11, 2011


In the 19th century, the philosopher Thomas Carlyle was asked what advice he had for people trying to do good in the world. The prickly Scot famously replied, “Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world.” Perhaps even more famously, when Mahatma Gandhi was asked what his message was, he said, “My life is my message”.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by how many elders in the social change field have focused on personal transformation as the root of all sustainable change. As mystical and new-agey as that sounds, we’re hearing it more and more from people who should know. Describing his life’s work on tribal rights and primary health care for the most marginalized populations in India, Dr. H. Sudarshan said that the key to anti-poverty work was to approach the people you are trying to help with humility, drop your pre-conceived or university-derived notions of what is needed, and learn how you can build off their strengths. This is fairly conventional wisdom, although not as widely applied as it could be. But when asked what he would say to future change leaders, he commented,

“If you’re not an integrated person yourself, having dealt with your own demons, you will just project your own issues onto the community. We need to really watch for this in our employees, and helping them develop themselves is one of the most important roles of managers of organizations. We need to develop people who are authentic, who know how to learn from the grassroots, who understand the paths of their own lives. What Gandhi said about his life being his message – that’s so valuable.”

We’ve also heard similar sentiments from two close friends of our work, Jerry White and Dr. Monica Sharma. Both of whom, after decades of award-winning social change successes, are dedicating themselves to fostering the transformational leaders of the future.

How can we help more young people “understand the paths of their own lives”?

Share this article: