How to Think If You Want to Change the World
by Jean-Robert Bayard
This book is about empowerment. It is meant to enable you to take
charge of your own thoughts and feelings and use them to bring about a
better world and a happier, more fulfilling personal life for you.
Each of us has the ability to do so -- each of us has all the potential
energy of a nuclear bomb and more, we have all the motivation and
energy we need to improve the world.
How can we do that? That's what this book is about -- it's the
culmination of many, many years of advocacy and efforts to confront the
suffering in the world.
I think my first realization that there was terrible suffering was when I
was nine years old and witnessed the cruel abuse of a fish, and failed to
take action to rescue it. That scene, and my failure to do anything about
it, has haunted me to this day.
For many years I struggled to ease the pain that I felt --as a lot of us
feel-- because of the suffering caused by war, genocide, poverty,
discrimination and all manner of injustice and disappointment, the
suffering of animals who are abused and their species wiped out, and the
heart ache all of us suffer as we see plant life and even the very rock and
dust, air and waters of our earth contaminated and spoiled.
So I became a social activist, fighting for civil rights, an end to war, and
the humane treatment of animals. That meant lots of work--endless
meetings, demonstrating and marching in the streets, riding a bus for 10
hours to be part of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King
delivered his "I have a Dream" speech, writing newsletters, pressuring
legislators, and, like Thoreau, getting arrested and going to jail.
But I found the results of all this work to be wildly disproportionate to
the effort they took! My friends and I labored mightily and made only
minuscule progress which, often as not, was canceled a year or two after
we made it. Why did all our work have so little effect? It seemed to me
that we needed more members and we needed better strategies to use
with the members we had.
So I began to write a book of Practices from which I thought that social
activists could learn to be more effective and which would also, I hoped,
inspire more people and empower them to make a difference and change
However, I wasn't quite satisfied that I had the whole answer. So as I
wrote, I also read hundreds of books, asking of each, "How can we ease
the suffering in the world?"
I first studied the works of great activists who had been effective, from
the early abolitionists of slavery through Susan B. Anthony, Gandhi and
Martin Luther King, Jr. The importance which all these people gave to a
spiritual life led me to read the works of spiritual leaders who had also
been activists. I reviewed the precious teachings of Jesus which I had
absorbed as a child, pondering how they might apply to social activism
today. I read about Sri Aurobindo, Mother Teresa, and the liberation
theologists. I reviewed some of the great religions themselves and, when I
discovered that the goal in Buddhism was the same as mine -- an end to
suffering and the coming of happiness for all beings -- and its adherents
had never started a war as far as I could tell, I studied it with special
care. I gave much extra focus to Tibetan Buddhism because I so admired
the way the Tibetan people maintain their commitment to compassion
during their oppression by the Chinese.
Everything I read seemed to apply to the problem of alleviating suffering
and led me to still further reading. I dabbled in philosophy, history and
biology, always asking what they might have to tell me about suffering.
As a practicing clinical psychologist I also looked into the various
psychotherapies I've used with patients for decades, I read Joseph
Campbell's four-volume series on mythology several times, and whole
shelves full of books on science for lay readers, looking for answers
among the mysteries of relativity, quantum physics, and chaos theory.
I proceeded in this manner for more than twenty years. At last, when I
thought the book was finished, I began to read it over--and was stunned
to realize that while I was writing it, my ideas had changed. What I had
written was not just a book to help social activists be more effective; it
was a set of Practices that could empower anyone to go after whatever
she most wanted, and thus help to ease the suffering in the world at
But beyond that, I had gained an understanding of what is stopping us
from improving the world. Even though we want to and know we can
change the world, we can't seem to mobilize ourselves to actually do it,
and in the end we become bored or anxious or discouraged, and
resigned, and essentially acquiesce in our fate. What's stopping us is the
same force that's ruining our world in the first place: the way we think
and feel. The way we use our minds is canceling out our efforts to save
We need to recognize that the way we think and feel, the human mind,
actually runs the world, bringing about all the shoddy and the great
societies and all the bad and the wonderful things in them. And now,
acting together, by the power of your mind and my mind and all of our
minds, we human beings ourselves have brought the world to great
But this can give us great hope, because we can control our own minds,
and if we see that we ourselves are doing this wrecking of the world by
the way we use our minds, then we can see how powerful we are and
how we can use that power to remedy the situation. We see that we can
change the world by changing the ways of thinking that are making it the
way it is. We must learn a kind of jujitsu of the mind, take the very
mental powers that are now driving us to destruction and use them to
save ourselves instead.
The personal rewards are immense, too. For as you work to decide how
the world must change and use your mind to implement that change,
you will change too; you will become more courageous, more whole,
stronger, more honest, happier. Working to use your mind in this way is
a path toward personal enlightenment as well. It turns out that changing
the world is changing yourself, too, for salvation of all is salvation of the
Every one of us has the potential to be a hero, and if we didn't give
ourselves to the world we could die with that potential unused. Your
seeing that the world has problems and that you must help it gives you a
chance to use that potential.
So the goal, and reward, are very high: to change the world to reflect our
values, our very identity. Whether we will do it is the question. This is
challenge time for humanity; let us be thankful for the challenge which
calls upon our hidden power, for without it we might never know it, use
it, become it!
This book is meant to show how to do this--how to change our ways of
thinking so we can change the world, and become happier as well. It is
actually the first of a series of books, each going deeper and deeper to the
changes in the way we think and feel to be able to change the world and
be happy and at peace with ourselves.
* * *
The first part of this book describes how it is that so many of us
developed the ineffective kinds of thinking and feeling that are harming
the world, and why we cling to them.
The second part will present specific Practices you can use to develop
more effective ways of thinking, focusing on three basic Practices:
honoring your own "daring thoughts," and using your pain and fear to
power their translation into action. This presents further powerful
Practices from which you can choose to fit the ineffective thinking habits
you most want to change. For each one, I'll first describe a specific
harmful thinking habit, show how it hurts the world, and then describe a
Practice through which you can reverse it, reclaim the energy that was
going into it and direct it to more useful purposes.