Change: Who Really Coined the Phrase"
On December 24, 2014, (Arun) Gandhi’s Be Magazine ran an exclusive proclaiming the origin of the ‘Be the Change” movement.
Missy Crutchfield, Editor-in-Chief and Melissa Turner, Executive Editor began with an Editor’s note in which they said (Mahatma) “Gandhi’s words, ‘You must be the change we wish to see in the world,’ have inspired many people and movements around the world.” They went on to make the following claim: “Here we share the true origin of these famous words and how they serve as a broad reminder that love is the foundation for change, in our lives and in our world.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” said Mahatma Gandhi, right? Wrong …
“Actually, it is only just recently with its viral spread across the marketplace and among activist circles, that the origin of ‘Be the Change’ has been uncovered.”
The article continues to make this incorrect claim: “While attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, the phrase “Be the Change” was actually coined by his grandson, Arun Gandhi, as an effort to interpret and capture the flavor of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy, writings, and speeches …”
Needless to say, as the originator of Be the Change, I was surprised, if not startled to read this claim that Arun Gandhi had coined the phrase. The magazine article tells us that after he and his wife moved from India to live in the United States in 1987 [the date is very significant], he began traveling the lecture circuit on behalf of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. The article then proclaims: “… sometime in the mid-nineties, he started using the phrase ‘Be the Change’ in his talks …
“ ‘It began to make sense to me,’ Arun Gandhi stated. ‘Unless we change our bad habits of exploiting, discriminating, and all the other oppressive tendencies we have, how can love be possible? So I realized the crux of grandfather’s message was ‘We must become the change we wish to see in the world’.
“ ‘I started using it in my talks and the next thing I knew it went viral,’ Arun Gandhi says. ‘People started searching grandfather’s Collected Works to find it and of course they couldn’t. Then some people turned to me and I told them what I did.’ ”
My Part of the Story
All during the years from 1987 on, because Arun Gandhi was sharing his grandfather’s philosophy and ideas (along with his own), “Be the change you want to see in the world” was attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Many researchers rejected this ascription for numerous reasons. The researchers continued to seek the origin which did not fit with Mahatma Gandhi’s circumstances and time frame. They were right to keep looking.
In 2012, when I discovered that online writers and investigators were seeking solid information on how this phrase came into being, I wrote the story of the true origin of Be the Change for our magazine, Emerging. The researchers had heard that Arun Gandhi was attributing the phrase to his grandfather but they couldn’t find any actual reference. I wrote to Arun Gandhi to tell him of the true source and requested that he move on from saying that his grandfather originated it.
In back and forth e-mails with Arun Gandhi in which we agreed, in effect, that ideas belong to everyone, he wrote back acknowledging my concern, affirming that the phrase is nowhere to be found in his Grandfather’s quotes, and said, “Thank you for bringing it to my notice and, yes, I will do what I can to make the correction.”
This was appropriate on his part because Be the Change was assigned to Mahatma Gandhi (on posters, cups, bumper stickers, pins, and the like) because of Arun Gandhi’s use of the words to describe what the Mahatma wanted to communicate.
At last we can all agree that Mahatma Gandhi never said those words. I can see how Arun Gandhi thinks he coined the phrase because he has spoken of the concept so often. But that is simply wrong and to say that he coined it is untrue.
The main problem with his claim is that he was at least 17 or more years too late. “Be the Change” was coined in 1970 when I originated it as one of the six Love Principles during The Love Project at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was a very necessary principle in the school which, at the time, was a hub of unrest and diminished learning. It was clear that demanding that others change to make things better was not affecting anything and conditions were getting worse. It was then that the principles were put into practice, acknowledging that Problems are Opportunities, that we must Receive all people as beautiful exactly as they are, that we needed to proceed Having no expectations, that we would Provide others with the opportunity to give, while encouraging everyone to Create their own reality consciously, and above all, to Be the change they wanted to see happen instead of trying to change anyone else. In fact, the principles worked and the school was transformed in seven months to a place of love, caring, and learning. Look Magazine sent a reporter and photographer to cover our efforts over a three month period and New York City newspapers ran stories on The Love Project.
When Diane K. Pike and I joined energies to teach The Love Principles in 1972, (a full 15 years before Arun Gandhi arrived in the U.S.), we published them on the well-known little yellow cards that were (and still are) distributed throughout the United States and the world. Since then we have, of course, written of the principles in several published books.
While Arun Gandhi may have come to the extended phrase “Be the Change you want to see in the world” in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, the original “Be the Change” principle was issued long before in the different extended version: Be the Change you want to see happen rather than trying to change anyone else.” But it is the first three words that caught fire around the world because of their simplicity and power. These words were first put forth in The Love Principles, by Arleen Lorrance.
In 2012, Arun Gandhi wrote to me saying he would make a correction. I am astonished that the correction he chose this week was to claim that he coined Be the Change. While the only thing that really matters is that the teaching is out there for everyone’s use, my sense of rightness is offended.
Back in the 1970’s, someone wanted me to go on TV and have tee shirts and bumper stickers made up with The Love Principles. I said no because I wasn't seeking fame or $$$$ (this is still true) and I wanted to honor the divine power and spiritual nature of The Love Principles (this is still true.) The Love principles are for everyone’s use, for individuals to open themselves to unconditional love and become a positive, creative force in the world. There have been many expressions of them in the last 44-years and it is fine for Arun Gandhi to conduct a Be the Change movement as his expression for bringing peace to the world. It is, however, inappropriate to claim that he coined the phrase which was around for almost two decades before he arrived in the U.S.
I have shared all this (again) because the question about the origin is being raised repeatedly online. It is my responsibility to stand up and speak the truth of how and when it first came into being.