Making Real Change

Change Should Be Deep and Thorough

One of the ways to assess the impact of human activities on this planet is what is known as the “ecological footprint.” In order to stand, I need land the size of my two feet; that’s my footprint. In order to lie down, I need land the size of my body flat on the ground. Likewise, all human activities, even the least productive ones, require a certain amount of surface area of the Earth, such as forests to provide wood, fisheries to breed fish, farmland for agriculture, and vacant ground for residential and commercial buildings. (Actually, the forest is not only for timbering, but also for breathing, as it converts the CO2 generated by respiration into O2 through photosynthesis.) The size of the surface area required for maintaining these activities is called the ecological footprint.


Because each country is on a different level of economic development that supports different lifestyles, the size of the ecological footprint varies from country to country. The current collective ecological footprint needed to successfully maintain the entire human population of the world is calculated to be one and a half times larger than the size of the Earth. If all countries choose to emulate the economic development of the United States, and all people choose to adopt the high consumption lifestyles of this country, the size will explode to five times larger than the Earth.

Unfortunately, especially in the rapidly industrializing large-population countries such as India and China, the world is blindly following this pattern in spite of the predictable dismal end. If we are not willing to scale back our lifestyle, we will need to create four more planet Earths in addition to the existing one. Can we?

This means that we cannot make a real difference in our global situation just by eating some more organic vegetables, driving a hybrid car, or practicing recycling a little more diligently. I am not denying the positive impact of these actions on our personal lives and on our planet. But if the values such as success, profit, and dominance that currently drive our lives personally and collectively remain the same, the impact of making these changes in our personal practices will be nominal.

Honestly, would you be willing to relinquish some of the comforts and benefits that you enjoy now, if you were convinced that there is truly a conflict between these personal goodies and the good of all?

Someone asked me how we can truly know what our values are. I said, “If you take a look at your checkbook and bank account, you will see what you care about and value most.” We pay for what we really want. Do we really want peace? Do we really want sustainability?

How important does the Earth feel to me? If something is genuinely important to us, we will make it a priority, and this consideration will be reflected in the choices we make, especially in allocating our time and money. That’s what the checkbook and the bank account records tell us. The same will apply to organizations, governments, and nations as well.

If we don’t see real changes in the world, it simply means we are not serious enough about creating those changes. We cannot afford to entertain superficial changes any more. The changes we need should be deep, real, and thorough.

When the changes are deep, real, and thorough, they will affect our beliefs, perceptions, and experiences. We will see the world differently and experience our reality differently. Because we are so accustomed to our current ways of perceiving and evaluating our world, we may not be able to conceive any other possibilities. But after the changes have occurred, we may be surprised and wonder how we could have lived for such a long time within the limited and limiting boundaries of those perceptions, beliefs, and experiences.

It Is Time To Slow Down and Breathe Out

Lately, I have been trying to imagine what the world will be like 10 years from now. Will we still have the luxury of dreaming about 10 years down the road, when we are 10 years down the road from today? We have traveled this road since the dawn of our current civilization. We walked at the beginning, and soon started to run. Over time, the runners have changed but not the direction in which they ran and are still running.

Then the pace of industry, technology, and civilization in general sped up, and we found ourselves on a moving train. We’re still on that train, not because we’re absolutely sure this is the right track to be on, but because there seems to be no other way. And we’re beginning to feel a bit nervous. Could it be — as it seems more and more — that the train we’re on doesn’t have a driver? The scenery from the train windows is getting bleaker and bleaker, and the speed seems to be picking up. It’s dawning on more of us every day that we might be on course to crash into the side of a mountain or fall off a cliff.


Because we’re moving so fast, we can’t suddenly stop. Nor can we change direction or go backward, simply to repeat the same mistake of traveling a road without knowing where we are heading. We have to slow down, take a deep breath of fresh air, and breathe out all the tension from our chest. We need — individually and collectively — to pause for reflection on where we are, where we want to go, and where we are actually heading. A long time ago, Lao Tzu, another person who was seriously interested in the truth of life, said, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” I agree. We need to re-evaluate our priorities, set new goals, make a plan, and take action.

This article is excerpted from Ilchi Lee’s book “Change: Realizing Your Greatest Potential.”


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