Be the Change You Wish To See in the World

Mohandas Gandhi? Arleen Lorrance? Ernest Troutner? Diane Kennedy Pike? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Often you cannot convince someone via speech alone to constructively alter a behavior, but you can provide a model for emulation by changing your own behavior. Here are three versions of this notion:

  • Be the change you wish to see in the world.
  • Be the change you want to see happen.
  • We must be the change we wish to see in the world.

This saying has been attributed to the famous Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Gandhi died in 1948, and the earliest close match known to QI appeared many years later in 1974 within a book chapter written by educator Arleen Lorrance. She described her unhappiness while employed at a high school in Brooklyn, New York: 1

For seven years I served my sentence and marked off institutional time; I complained, cried, accepted hopelessness, put down the rest of the faculty for all the things they didn’t do, and devoted all my energies to trying to change others and the system.

Lorrance’s approach changed radically when she achieved a crucial insight about the most effective way to achieve change:

It came in on me loud and clear that I was the only one who could imprison (or release) me, that I was the only one I could do anything about changing. So I let go of my anger and negativism and made a decision to simply be totally loving, open and vulnerable all the time.

Her book chapter was titled “The Love Project”, and Lorrance was the initiator and facilitator of the project. The saying under examination was a core principle. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

One way to start a preventative program is to be the change you want to see happen. That is the essence and substance of the simple and successful endeavor known as THE LOVE PROJECT.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1913 Mohandas Gandhi published a piece about snakebites that included a thematically matching passage: 2

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.

The words above were not presented as a powerfully concise injunction, but the thought was similar to that of Arleen Lorrance in the 1974 citation.

In 1975 a newspaper in Reno, Nevada presented a remark from a local minister who was familiar with a key principle of “The Love Project”: 3

“Be the change you want to see happen, instead of trying to change everyone else,” is one of the Love Project Principles Rev. Ernest Troutner likes to recite when counseling couples considering marriage.

In 1976 Diane Kennedy Pike who was Lorrance’s close friend published “Life is Victorious! How to Grow through Grief” which included an enumeration of principles: 4

The LOVE PROJECT has become a new way of life for me, one that I can share with others. Its six basic principles for living in universal love express the core truths of all great religions in secular language. Those principles are:

  • Receive all people as beautiful exactly where they are.
  • Perceive problems as opportunities.
  • Be the change you want to see happen instead of trying to change everyone else.
  • Provide others with the opportunity to give.
  • Consciously create your own reality.
  • Have no expectations but, rather, abundant expectancy

In November 1976 Pike was profiled in the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” of St. Louis, Missouri: 5

She helps others learn a new way of life based on six principles that her friend, Arleen Lorrance, received in a dream when she was a teacher in a high school in The Bronx. Ms Lorrance, who accompanied Mrs. Pike to the interview, recited the principles.

“Receive all people as beautiful exactly where they are. Perceive problems as opportunities. Be the change you want to see happen instead of trying to change everyone else. . .

In 1977 the saying was reprinted in the syndicated advice column “Helen Help Us” by Helen Bottel: 6

DEAR HELEN: Perhaps you’ll print the principles of The Love Project, a therapeutic group that helps people find themselves. They mean a lot to me and I’m sure they’ll be appreciated by your readers.

Forthwith: Be the change you want to see happen instead of trying to change everyone else. . .

In 1978 an article about Lorrance in the “The San Diego Union” of San Diego, California mentioned the saying: 7

Arleen Lorrance makes a habit of asking, “Are you walking the spiritual path or are you just along for the ride?” . . .

She radiates energy with every word. She isn’t along for the ride. She will make things happen. “Be the change you want to see” is her motto.

In 1987 a Santa Fe, New Mexico newspaper described a gathering held to honor senior citizens of the community. The leader of the volunteer group that coordinated the meeting employed the saying while implausibly crediting Gandhi: 8

Organizer Mary Lou Cook said the inspiration to form such a group came from a statement by Gandhi: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

In 1990 a letter published in “The Orlando Sentinel” of Orlando, Florida attributed a variant expression to Gandhi: 9

Gandhi said we must live the changes we want to see in the world. The last thing anyone should do is discourage those people who are courageous enough to transcend racial lines in their families despite the hostility they might encounter from the fearful.

In 2006 “The Yale Book of Quotations” examined the saying, and the editor presented a response from Gandhi’s family: 10

We must be the change we wish to see in the world.

Quoted in L.A. Times, 30 July 1989. According to the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, this has not been traced in Gandhi’s writings but “the Gandhi family states that M. K. Gandhi was known to say this verse many times in his lifetime and believes it to be original with him.”

In 2011 an article in “The New York Times” about misquotations titled “Falser Words Were Never Spoken” expressed skepticism regarding the Gandhi ascription. Yet, the piece also gave an interesting thematic match: 11

Perhaps you’ve noticed a bumper sticker that purports to quote him: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” . . .

Sure enough, it turns out there is no reliable documentary evidence for the quotation. The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

In 2016 the scholars Charles Clay Doyle and Wolfgang Mieder published in the journal “Proverbium” a supplement to the valuable reference “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”. The supplement included an entry for the saying that pointed to the 1974 citation given at the beginning of this article. 12

In conclusion, Mohandas Gandhi did write a pertinent passage in 1913 that expressed a similar idea, but the popular modern saying is considerably more concise and forceful. QI believes Arleen Lorrance should receive credit for the expression she wrote 1974.

Image Notes: Portrait of Mohandas Gandhi from 1969 stamp issued by the Soviet Union. Human figures holding hands encircling the Earth from acky24 at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Vickie MacFadden, Andrew L. Weber, and Lisa Robinton whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Charles Doyle, Donna Halper, Brian Morton, Fred Shapiro, and Nigel Rees for their research on this topic. Doyle located the 1974 citation independently of QI; Halper located the 1975 citation; Morton identified the Gandhi precursor. Thanks also to discussant Jonathan Lighter and the volunteer editors at Wikiquote.)


  1. 1974 Copyright, Developing Priorities and a Style: Selected Readings in Education for Teachers and Parents, Editor: Richard Dean Kellough (California State University, Sacramento) Second Edition, Chapter: The Love Project by Arleen Lorrance, Start Page 85, Quote Page 85, Publisher: MSS Information Corporation, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  2. 1964, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume XII, April 1913 to December 1914, Chapter: General Knowledge About Health XXXII: Accidents Snake-Bite, (From Gujarati, Indian Opinion, 9-8-1913), Start Page 156, Quote Page 158, The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi at link
  3. 1975 June 30, Reno Evening Gazette (Reno Gazette-Journal), Selecting a marriage partner. What you see is what you get by Pamela Galloway, (Text in photo caption under the title “Thoughts on marriage”), Quote Page 6, Column 4, Reno, Nevada. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1976 Copyright, Life is Victorious!: How to Grow Through Grief : A Personal Experience by Diane Kennedy Pike, Quote Page 196, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  5. 1976 November 15, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, A Ministry Called “The Love Project” by Patricia Rice (The Post-Dispatch Staff), Quote Page 2D, Column 4, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1977 August 9, The Daily Herald, Helen Help Us: Love Is Therapeutic by Helen Bottel (Syndicated), Quote Page 11, Column 1, Provo, Utah. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1978 April 29, The San Diego Union, 2 Bitten By Love Bug, Spread Ailment by Rita Gillmon (Staff Writer, The San Diego Union), Quote Page B7, Column 1 and 3, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank)
  8. 1987 March 22, The Santa Fe New Mexican, Section: A Prime Time, Celebration of the human spirit by Denise Kusel, Quote Page 4, Column 1 and 2, Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1990 December 30, The Orlando Sentinel, Section: Florida Magazine, Letters, Letter title: Encouraging the courageous to transcend racial lines, Letter author: Kathy Aziz of Winter Park, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Orlando, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi, Quote Page 299, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  11. 2011 August 30, New York Times, Falser Words Were Never Spoken by Brian Morton, Quote Page A23, Column 2, New York. (ProQuest)
  12. 2016, Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, Volume 33, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs: A Supplement by Charles Clay Doyle and Wolfgang Mieder, Start Page 85, Quote Page 90, Published by The University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. (Verified on paper)