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A Superfluous Man: Inspiration, betterment starts with self

The only person you can change is yourself. The best we can hope to do is act in a way that sparks a dormant idea in another individual.

Continuously we hear earnest pleas from professors and other individuals in our lives to “make the world a better place,” “help others,” etc. But the fact of the matter is that, aside from improving yourself, you will inevitably be disappointed by others.

Not that you should not try to assist others when the chance arises (or should you?), but the only method to ameliorate undesirable situations in your world is, as the Gandhi bumper-sticker cliche says, is to “be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Everyone is selfish and concerned with what is occurring in their realm (especially individuals claiming to be completely unselfish). Lecturing individuals on their moral inferiority or reproaching the lack of concern for social justice only persuades them to malign the speaker as pompous or arrogant.

You cannot change anyone.

The most you can hope to do is to introduce an idea in a listener’s mind that catalyzes a thought or motivation to think in a different dichotomy or attempt a new action.

Galileo Galilei said, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”

Until an individual finds an idea within himself, any attempt to produce change is wasted effort. And, until we recognize this fact, we will be continually disappointed in other people and become ever more disenchanted because “they” are not like us.

Perhaps this is the foundational problem in any reform or opposition movement: Leaders interpret society as requiring a transformation instigated by themselves, improving society for the better at all levels.

The flaw, of course, is that no one has a universal panacea. And while an infinite number of individuals claim to and gain legions of supporters, it is much more challenging to ask individuals to focus on their various flaws rather than perceived societal ones.

Naturally, widespread societal flaws exist; but any individual who exerted enough influence to reform those flaws did not base his or her movement on a common good. Instead, those individuals perceived an issue in themselves or in their society that compelled them to action.

It was a moral duty, which may have factored in societal needs, but it was based primarily in an understanding that the individual could not fail to act on their own conscience.

I should apologize for my column this quarter. I suppose I should have written for an audience; instead, I wrote for myself. Maybe a few individuals have garnered an idea of value from me, but if they did, that was a completely unintended result.

My goal is not to start a revolution; it is to improve my method of thinking and to cause as minimal an amount of harm as possible.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

A thousand individuals emotionally plead with others to vote for the individual wearing their favorite hat and expect society to change for them.

The one who strikes the root understands that, for any progress to develop, it starts with themselves.

Anthony Hennen is a junior studying journalism and a columnist for The Post. Feeling inspired? Email Anthony at

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