“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy
SEL Connection: Kids hear all the time that they should go out and ‘change the world’. The world is broken and they have the power to do something to make it better. Sometimes kids get this message strongly because their parents didn’t feel as if they contributed enough. Others develop over time a sense of obligation from their teachers or other influential adults. Regardless of where the message comes from, its importance is made clear: the world needs to be fixed and you are the person who can fix it. Kids react very emotionally to this burden, and in different ways. Some take the responsibility head on and work hard to achieve good. Others ignore it, and still others develop a sense of anger for being made responsible for problems created by other people. The issue of change and ‘making the world a better place” touch deep into the psyche of young people.
(1) Claim: Tolstoy is testing conventional wisdom by suggesting that maybe the thing that needs to be changed is the person, not the world itself. Maybe the people themselves should be in the market for self-improvement and that our focus is misguided. It is almost as if Tolstoy is saying that people want to avoid their own problems so that they can become deeply engaged in solving other people’s problems.
(2) Counterclaim: Well, Tolstoy speaks in absolute terms here which can be misleading. Maybe not everybody actually thinks of changing the world. Maybe most people are so self-centered and worried about their own status within the world, they don’t have time to think beyond their immediate circumstances to other people. That is just as reasonable of a claim. As for whether or not people think of changing themselves, just consider the burgeoning self-help movement– the books, videos, YouTube channels that beg us to consider alternative ways of life. We are constantly trying to change ourselves for the better. This doesn’t mean we are successful but we certainly try.
(3) Essential Question: What is harder to change, yourself or the world?