Be the Good You Want to See in the World

I often find the phrase “be the change you want to see in the world” intimidating, because the change I want to see in the world is huge, sweeping, overwhelming, and must be the result of millions of other people working to change complex systems of injustice that have been in place for years and years. But if I substitute the word “good” for “change,” the adage sounds suddenly manageable. I see good around me all the time, in the hearts and actions of other people. And I have a sense of what is good for people—for me, and for others. Being seen, listened to, acknowledged, encouraged, and valuedcandle-711339_1920—these things are good.

I can do these things. I have done these things. For over twenty years, I was able to do these things as a teacher at colleges and universities. I was lucky; the teaching of writing provides so many natural opportunities for the nurturing and mentoring of young people. Places of learning provide community that can support these essential acts of goodness: to see, listen to, acknowledge, encourage, and value others. Being a teacher gives a person authority, so those acts carry enough weight to make a real difference in the lives of some students.

Now that I am working to be the good I want to see in the world outside the often wonderful community of higher education, the opportunities and effects of these acts of goodness are more difficult to see. I need to remind myself that what I am doing now is essentially the same as what I did then. So I write these posts to you, and to myself, and I have to say it, explicitly: in my writing, despite the apparent contradictions, I am still trying to see, listen to, acknowledge, encourage, and value you. I may not always succeed, and some words will reach some of you and not others. But I am trying. This is my goal. Even when I promote my own books, try to be funny, try to get people to buy things, share the words of others, admit to sadness or frustration, piss you off—this is all in service to my overall goal, to be the good I want to see in the world.

At the end of her well-known poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” There are so many things I want to do: create, protect the environment, love animals, travel, grow things, appreciate beauty, laugh with friends, give to my loved ones, alleviate suffering, promote equality, experience peace… I believe these long-term goals start with the acts of goodness I list above, small things I can do that will, if I’m lucky, ripple through my life to make the larger things possible. dandelion-445228_1920

It is vital for me to remember, however, and to remind myself as often as needed, that even if I don’t get to do everything I want to do with my “one wild and precious life,” making these simple acts—to see, listen to, acknowledge, encourage, and value others—the focus of my life is worthwhile. I have been teacher, poet, mentor. I will be more impractical things (writer, blogger, lecturer, workshop leader, publisher, video instructor, and things I can’t even conceive of at this point). But practicality is not my goal, in my professional or my personal life. What’s yours?



31 replies »

  1. so amazing

    Taelynn Davis

    On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 11:50 AM, The Gloria Sirens wrote:

    > Katie Riegel posted: “I often find the phrase “be the change you want to > see in the world” intimidating, because the change I want to see in the > world is huge, sweeping, overwhelming, and must be the result of millions > of other people working to change complex systems of injus” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderfully written!
    “Be the change you want to see in the world.” as quoted by Mahatma Gandhi. He quoted it to influence every individual to change. The world will change itself.
    But you too moulded it nicely. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. In a world that doesn’t listen, I want to listen and absorb. That does more good for so many situations in life than you can imagine. With your children, your spouse, coworkers, patents and friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Lisa Lanser Rose and commented:
    “Practicality is not my goal.” It’s never been mine either, although I’ve often been ashamed to be seen as impractical, especially in pursuit of art. Yet practicality means “concern with the business of ordinary activities,” and “ordinary” is as varied as we are. It needs to be okay that for some of us “ordinary” is writing a poem.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like your essay, the change we crave to see in other people must start from us, and that was Jesus said in the bible that before we criticize people we have to look at ourselves The Irony of it is that most of us focus on other people instead on yourself, any change must start from us and inside us.


  6. Your speech is extremely beautiful, every single word you Said is so True and your dreams are such An ispiration to us
    World needs heroes and surely needs changes!


  7. Change starts from home. Self-duty if performed religiously will certain change the scenario. If not fully it will at least energize the surroundings. Well thought and nicely presented.


  8. my goal almost match you.i m a young men started organization to educate the poor children of the village in organization name is villageaid…


  9. Sometimes we forget that small acts of compassion, or of goodness can change and impact someone’s life. And if we impact one life at a time and that life impacts another, eventually the world starts to change. Really well written! Congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My goal is too to make a difference in the world.
    This is why I have started a blog so that more people are aware of what Burmese Americans go through and the plight of refugees.

    We can be the change of this world if we believe it!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. These words are so wise… I want to be a teacher myself and I can tell you that I completely agree with you. I was speechless when I read your article. Incredible! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

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