The following is based on a real online exchange with someone who expressed concern about the possibility that I am wasting my life away trying to change people who don’t want to be changed.
Question: Why do you insist on trying to inspire others to “think critically and creatively”? People are going to do what they want to do regardless of what you say. No matter how much you philosophize, people are still going to go their own way.
Answer: I do not philosophize because I have some sort of guarantee that I will save the world. I do it because this is what my nature demands of me. So the answer to your question is revealed in the question itself. It is true that people are going to do whatever they wish to do. But I am one of those people. And philosophy is what I wish to do.
This world will always be occupied by at least two groups of people: those who feel hopeless in relation to the possibility of creating positive change and those who feel hopeful. Some people will move back and forth between each of those groups at least once during their lifetime. And some people won’t change at all.
What matters most it this: if you are one of the hopeful ones, base your sense of hope on your own beliefs, your own convictions, and your own need to be true to yourself. Don’t wait on the world to agree with you before you give yourself permission to be who you need to be.
In a recent piece called “A Meditation on Sh*t Talkers,” Ash Ambirge wrote the following:
Because that’s the thing—no matter who you are, and no matter who they are, someone will always have something to say. Yet, I think we can take comfort in knowing that. And I think we should take comfort in knowing that.
Because no matter what comes out of their mouths, it doesn’t have to stop you from publishing your book; no matter what’s whispered, it doesn’t have to stop you from building your million dollar empire; no matter what secret opinions strangers have, it doesn’t have to stop you from traveling the globe; and no matter what anyone says, it doesn’t have to stop you from creating.
This attitude is about so much more than casually dismissing people in the name of “haters gonna hate.” This attitude is about recognizing that the value of creative work and self-authentic expression is infinitely bigger than getting the whole world to agree with you. There are reasons for doing things even if no one’s going to change who they are in response to what you do. And I believe that these reasons are the most important reasons.
As I wrote in “Light Your Own Match First,”
If your message doesn’t speak to you, how do you expect it to speak to others? If your own stories and insights don’t make you come alive, how do you expect them to make others come alive? How can others find you engaging if you are not engaged? How can others find your subject matter fascinating if you are not gripped by fascination? Whether you speak for an audience of one or an audience of one hundred, the principle remains the same: draw your energy from your own convictions not from what you think will please the crowd. You can’t give what you haven’t received. If you want to set people’s heart ablaze, you have to be fired up in your own life.
So if you want to inspire people, pay attention to their reactions and learn from their feedback, but let nothing be a substitute for the internal and invincible motivation that comes from doing work you deeply believe in. The real goal is to keep your own fire burning no matter what. The effect you have on the rest of the world will take care of itself.