I’m not the biggest fan of quotes. Far too frequently, people take pithy comments that refer to a specific event or theme and apply them to inapplicable situations. More often than not, quotes are reductivist and encourage a narrow view of the world. And even worse than that, they are usually taken out of context and meant to appeal to people in a way that the original author of the words would not appreciate.
Despite their limitations, there are some that I like. Among my favorites comes from a 13th century Persian poet known as Rumi:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
There is a naïve notion littered across American campuses that you need to “be the change you want to see in the world”. The only thing you need to be is yourself—and that is easier said than done.
You can change the world, but you’ll never control it; you’ll never be able to wake up and have people act in the exact way you’d like them to act. More often than not, the world will disappoint you and reject your advances toward changing people.
But you can control yourself; you can treat people exactly the way they want to be treated, you can become the best version of yourself and you can watch others follow in your footsteps.
A quiet, dignified person’s solicited opinion will always mean more than that of an obnoxious social justice warrior who shoves morals in your face. The viewpoints of those I admire are really the only ones that have ever mattered.
The world has a far greater shortage of people who take responsibility for themselves and the way they treat others than people who speak out against injustices.
As I grow older, it becomes more apparent to me every day that we live in an excessively preachy society. Because of this, the further I wish to retreat into myself. Instead of taking responsibility for themselves, people have become entranced in forcing their values on others.
I understand that people feel intensely attached to certain philosophies and movements with whcih they identify very closely, but I am sick of being condescended to. I am sick of being barraged by movements, people, and media telling me what is moral, what I should believe in and who or what I should accept.
My parents did a good job of raising me and I don’t need, for example, Man Up, on the Tempe campus telling me that because I am a man, I am inclined toward disrespecting women. If they want to worry about something, they can worry about how they treat women, but their need to lecture others is unwarranted.
However, I understand the urge to move others to action. Social activist Martin Niemoller’s quote runs counter to Rumi’s insight and illustrates this urge best:
“When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”
But quotes like these, powerful as they may be, fall victim to the aforementioned weaknesses of quotes. People think it gives them clear reign to be annoying crusaders of their own agendas.
If evil is being done, than by no means should one stand by. However, most of American society seems to conflate this with pushing social engineering on others.
Mind your business, mind your family, mind your friends, but above all, mind yourself.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurphJamin
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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