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Excerpt from "The 8 Laws of Change"

Chapter 3 - Beingness

by Stephan A. Schwartz

My friend Sheila, who was a tough-minded New York career newspaperwoman turned magazine writer, prided herself on her cynical view on life and her ability to not be taken in. One day she got an assignment to do a story on Mother Teresa, and she welcomed the opportunity. She saw the piece as an exposé. “I thought she was a fraud, a genius at public relations maybe, but I disliked her conservative theology, which I thought demeaned women, and I found her constant involvement with the rich and famous very suspect.” She explained to me how she arranged to join Mother Teresa and spend more than a week traveling with her and watching her at one of her hospices. 

“My first impression never changed,” she said. “I disagreed with almost everything she had to say about religion. I found her views about God depressing, and her vision about the place of women in the church almost medieval. At the same time from the very first moment I was in her presence, I had this overpowering urge to call the magazine and tell them that I wasn’t coming back; that I wanted to give myself to Mother Teresa’s work. It left me confused and ecstatic. I could not resolve my thinking and my feelings.” 

No one else in modern history has understood and articulated the approach of beingness better than Mahatma Gandhi. Just before he was assassinated, a reporter had the opportunity to interview Gandhi and asked this question: How did you force the British to leave India? 

Britain had dominated the subcontinent for more than a century. Gandhi had no army, no money to speak of, no official position, none of the trappings that normally confer authority and power. Yet he had made the most powerful nation of his day leave its most valuable colonial possession, without a war. 

Gandhi answered the question in this way. It perfectly articulates the power of beingness. 

“It was not what we did that mattered,” he told the reporter,“although that mattered. 

“It was not what we said that mattered,” he added, “although that mattered. 

“It was the nature of our character that caused the British to choose to leave India.” 

Positive life-affirming beingness is core to a social transformation strategy based on nonviolence. But I want to be clear that an intensity of beingness need not be positive and life affirming. There is a shadow side to this, and it is important to understand and acknowledge its reality. Let me take Gandhi’s antipode. 

Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect and later his minister of armaments and munitions, was considered a genius of organization, even by his enemies. The only member of Hitler’s inner circle to plead guilty at the Nuremberg Trials, he was imprisoned until 1966 in Spandau Prison. Interviewed after his release he said, “I ask myself time and again how much of it was a kind of auto-suggestion. One thing is certain: everyone who worked closely with Hitler . . . was exceptionally dependent on him. However powerful they were in their own domain, close to him they became small and timid.” 

Speer is reported to have told Finance Minister Hjalmar Schacht, “I try so hard, but every time I stand before the Führer, my heart drops into the seat of my pants.” 

Historians have debated for centuries what forces produce what they call “The Great Man,” leaders like Napoleon who arise from the mass, and with astonishing rapidity achieve positions of unchallenged power. How does a misfit like Hitler become the leader at a time of high civilization? 

I think the answer is beingness. Carl Jung said to appreciate how Hitler came to power, it was necessary to realize that “Hitler did not lead the German people, Hitler was the German people”--the personification of a popular critical consensus. 

The transformational power of beingness begins with an individual’s choices. But when that individual beingness is a peculiarly sensitive resonator, social change occurs whether for good or ill. Gandhi represents the life-affirming polarity that resulted in a people gaining their independence without war. Hitler personified and gave voice to the dark pool of anger and humiliation felt by that portion of the human race self-defined as German. 

Hitler and Gandhi are extreme examples of the power of individual beingness, and what happens when intensely held individual beingness resonates with a collective gestalt. I am using them precisely because they are so extreme and because they illustrate very clearly that beingness is powerful--whether positive or negative. 

As Anthropologist Margaret Mead so famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Ultimately it gets down to individual choice. Everything starts with one person holding an intention and making decisions expressing that intention. As their beingness changes even the most unlikely people can become enormously powerful. This process constitutes one of the least understood social forces in our world. 

Consider these socially progressive evolutions in American society: 

Public Education 
Penal Reform 
Women’s Suffrage 
Civil Rights 
Nuclear Freeze 
Environmental Protection 

The obvious thing they have in common is that they were all by design nonviolent; movements created mostly by people who did not command power as it is usually understood. Dig deeper and underneath the obvious, and independent of political considerations, there beats a deeper drum, one that is rarely recognized. The most fundamental thing all these changes had in common was that they occurred as the result of a transformation of self in common intention with others. Beingness. 

The strategy of violence values immediacy and cares little for collateral damage. It is also vulnerable to violent change itself. The beingness strategy works at a deeper level; more slowly, because it changes people’s hearts. As the intention is expressed throughout the day in unnumbered small mundane individual choices, it produces a change in the worldview of the culture and with the minimum amount of violence and hurt. 

Stephan A. Schwartz is a distinguished consulting faculty member at Saybrook University, a research associate of the Laboratories for Fundamental Research, editor of the daily web publication Schwartzreport.net, and columnist for the peer-reviewed research journal Explore. The author of 4 books and more than 100 technical papers, he has also written articles for Smithsonian, OMNI, American History, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post. He lives in Langley, Washington.

The 8 Laws of Change by Stephan A. Schwartz © 2015 Park Street Press. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com

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