Online IAS preparation

Be the change you want to see

Author: Sourav (143/250 in CSE 2014, 145/250 in CSE 2015)

Essay topic: ‘Be the change you want to see’

A mother takes his son, who has habit of eating too much sugar, to Gandhiji. The woman respects Gandhiji a lot and Bapu is also the idol of son. So the woman asks Gandhiji to instil some sense in the boy by making him realize that eating too much sugar is bad for health. Gandhiji patiently listens to mother’s request and asks her to return after two weeks. The woman goes again after two weeks and Gandhiji advises the boy ‘Don’t eat too much sugar son, it’s bad for your health’. At this woman asks, ‘Bapu, why couldn’t you say this two weeks back?’ At this Bapu says that ‘I, myself was consuming too much sugar two weeks back, so I couldn’t advise your son’.

‘Be the change you want to see’.

This principle without doubt is one of the most accepted ones by renowned leaders. Such a practice gives oneself the moral high ground to advise and lead others, which in turn helps to drive change. However, upon closer scrutiny we can observe that the principle can be challenged on both philosophical and pragmatic grounds. Though the principle is simple and has powerful impact, it does not enjoy universal applicability and one has to observe caution while practicing it.

The above story, aptly brings out the moral foundations of imbibing change before expecting others to do so. The essay will further explore such moral and philosophical connotations of it and also discuss the possible arguments against it from philosophical lens. The essay will also highlight the importance of this practice in shaping behavioral and interpersonal elements such as leadership skills etc. and alongside also bring out the downsides. Furthermore, various areas where applicability of this principle can be debated will be discussed. Lastly, how this principle applies in modern context will be analyzed.

Philosophical background

– How claiming moral high ground appeals to higher sense of human reason

– Evokes feeling of respect in individual for the one leader

– Sound and feel just, as a liar can’t preach that speaking truth is a good practice

– Will lead to a formation of virtuous society, if everyone practices the good things he preaches

– Kantian argument – using human as a means to drive change in others undermines the human dignity and therefore it is immoral. If change is required it should be done without any such considerations with a sense of duty.

– Give example of Gandhiji and other national leaders wearing Khadi to promote it during national movement and how both sides of philosophical arguments would have reacted


– Lead by example is a popular catchphrase and has universal acceptance

– The imagery of Modi sweeping floor before asking others to do so, appeals to this principle

– Give example of sports

– However, there should be caution – leader shouldn’t get too involved in minute things. We don’t want Modi sweeping floor all the time. Football coach, successful ones like Mourinho have never been footballers. Understanding and providing strategic direction is also as much important if not more.

– give the gist

Emotional intelligence

– one aspect of EI is understanding others’ emotion

– so if you do the task yourself, you will realize how the other person is feeling

– I can’t never understand how difficult it is to change a habit, for instance to reduce sleeping hours, unless I have done it

– therefore increases EI

– however, you always don’t always have to reinvent the wheel to understand others. Can learn from existing knowledge and develop your response accordingly


– similar argument as above

– give different example

Universal applicability?

– unequal circumstances demand different behavior. Poor needn’t be generous to expect rich person to be generous. Majority and minority community relationship as envisaged by forefathers where majority community has to be more forthcoming and minority community can expect that without doing so itself.

Give more examples

– some universal values such as honesty, integrity etc – statement has full applicability; where values are not universal – then the applicability becomes debatable; for instance, hardworking, activeness is a good value for youth but the old or diseased etc. needn’t be so much hardworking to expect the youth to have such values; give one more example

Present context

– Politics: parties reacting to each other with mutual allegations of corruptions; parties like AAP claimed moral high ground based on this principle; also exposes the hypocrisy -> some corrupt people asking for corrupt free practices, people who treat women badly ask for women rights etc.

– Foreign diplomacy: age of realpolitik, moral high ground hasn’t served well as experienced during India China war; give eg of India-Pakistan over Kashmir during partition; give eg of US attacks

– Extreme circumstances: what do you do when faced with monsters like in Nirbhaya’s case. Do the statement made by Asaram that women should have begged for mercy and appealed to higher sense of humanism make sense? The statement applies this principle, however as we can see lacks validity in this case. One can’t expect these monsters to change even with such behavior. Some people beyond change/reform


We can see that the maxim ‘be the change you want to see’ stands on a firm philosophical ground, though it can be challenged by Kant followers. The principle also helps us to imbibe desirable behavioral traits such as leadership skills, emotional intelligence etc. However one needs to adopt a cautionary approach and not get too much lost in trivial activities. Moreover, we can conclude that the principle doesn’t enjoy universal applicability and one has keep in mind the context, circumstances while adopting it. In modern context, it serves well to adopt the principle to drive change and expose hypocrisy but it doesn’t make sense to adhere to the maxim in matters of foreign diplomacy where realpolitik decides the rules. Lastly, the principle might lose applicability in extreme circumstances also.

In nutshell, we can say that the principle can serve as a beacon to guide our behavior in many circumstances, however one needs to pass it through the test of reason and applicability time and again depending on situation to judge its suitability.

June 7, 2017

0 Responses on Be the change you want to see"

Leave a Message