Who Said “Be the Change?”

By  Arleen  Lorrance

In March of 2012 I was quite taken aback to discover that a controversy was taking place about who said “Be the Change.”  There is absolutely no evidence that Gandhi ever said “Be the Change.” I received the Love Principles (see below) in October, 1970 on what I can only describe as a Ray of Light. I wrote them down and began living them.  I hadn’t studied The Love Principles in any outside source; when they came to me they were pure gift, the result of my inner classes on other levels of consciousness.  

My partner Diane K. Pike and I have distributed The Love Principles for over 40 years and they have circled the globe multiple times. They are simple statements of truth that enable people to live lives of unconditional love, to function consciously, and to be change agents. Living them is often not so simple, but I continue to practice them to this day, along with many thousands of others who have been exposed to them.

Over the years I have heard the phrase “Be the change you want to see” quoted by world leaders, politicians, inspirational speakers, ministers, and the like. Now, after all these years, I come to learn that they are quoting me!


Inquiry from Wikiquote

On March 3, 2012, I received the following e-mail from Len Schulwitz:

“I’m writing to you in regard to some research I have been doing recently. I was editing Wikiquote when I noticed that Gandhi’s famous quotation: ‘Be The Change You Want to See in the World’ is suspected to have been mis-attributed.  In doing research to find the original source for the quote, the oldest citation I could find which attributed the above quote to Gandhi appeared in a 1984 edition of Drum Magazine. The fact that there’s no easily obtainable record of an older source is surprising, but what’s even more surprising is the discovery of a nearly identical quote ‘Be The Change You Want to See Happen’ contained in a 1974 abstract based on your book The Love Project.   Also, in your 1977 book, Why Me?

“Miss Lorrance, is it possible that the above quotation, now famously attributed to the great Mahatma, actually originated from your Love Project and Love Principles? Or did you perhaps borrow this quotation from Gandhi or another source?

“I realize that trying remember writing from the 1970s is probably very difficult. However, any insights you can give me into this matter would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for any help you can provide.”


I was fascinated to receive Len’s e-mail. I immediately did my own research on the “quote” and discovered that there is no record of Gandhi actually having said those words in that way. I did find several references to a paragraph in which Gandhi expressed these sentiments in general terms, and he certainly was an example of this principle in his life. This is no doubt as to why the quote is attributed to him because it is certainly the way he lived his life.

Gandhi’s Words

Here is what my research revealed and what I told Len in my response. The quotation seems to have been paraphrased from the following paragraph:

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.

[From VOL 13, Ch 153, General Knowledge About Health, Page 241, Printed in the Indian Opinion on 9/8/1913 from The Collected Works of M. K. Gandhi, published by The Publications Division, New Delhi, India.]


I was nine years old when Gandhi died and did not really know of him until much later in my life, long after The Love Principles came to me. One of the six principles is Be the change you want to see happen instead of trying to change anyone else.  I had no idea, at the time of bringing the principles into being, that the essence of this thought was spoken of by Gandhi, so I certainly did not borrow it from him.

I received the principles in October, 1970 on what I can only describe as a Ray of Light, or call it an enlightened moment. I wrote them down, began living them, and enacted them at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, NY as the basis for The Love Project we did there that completely changed the school into a loving learning environment. This event was written up widely and was the subject of a proposed special for Look Magazine.

Fifteen or twenty years into sharing The Love Principles around the country and world it came to my attention that Be the change you want to see in the world was attributed to Gandhi.  I had never heard before that time that he had said those words, but I immediately felt I was in very good company.  I still feel that. What I know about all The Love Principles is that they are universal truths and can really be attributed to no one in particular. We each register them, learn them, choose them, embody them, and thus, they belong to everyone. Each of us gives our unique expression in words to them; mine, in October 1970, was be the change you want to see happen instead of trying to change anyone else.

Needless to say, I was quite taken aback to discover that there is absolutely no evidence that Gandhi ever said “Be the Change.”

Thrilled, Humbled and Proud

Len’s inquiry made me realize, for the very first time, that it is appropriate that the particular quote be attributed to me because in 1970 I did come up with that exact phrasing. Imagine that! I am both thrilled and humbled because I truly brought a gift to the world and I am grateful to have had that opportunity.

Imagine hearing it in President Obama’s Inaugural Address in 2009! All I can do is shake my head with wonder and feel very proud indeed.

But then, since 1970 I have felt that sense of wonder because I have witnessed incredible and monumental changes in my own life and in the lives of thousands of people who have practiced The Love Principles.

I took some time to reflect on insights that I had written about in my book The Love Project. Gandhi’s original statement said, “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.”

What I saw during The Love Project at Thomas Jefferson High School was that when we changed ourselves, our very world changed because we were looking out through different eyes and elevated consciousness. The outer situation might seem to remain the same but because we were different, it was different. We saw all the new possibilities.

Inspired by Len Schulwitz’ inquiry, I continued my research online. I found numerous references to “Be The Change.” Among them were:

  •  “Class of 2009, if you can live your life in accordance with the highest of your being, if you can be the change that you want to see in the world [italics are mine], if you can be conscious that everything in you is a choice between acceptance and change, then transformative things will happen.” Teacher’s College, Columbia University.

  • Be the change you want to see [italics are mine] in your relationships and just watch as they take on a new luster and form. Change the way you show up for yourself and watch as the people around you change in the way they show up for you too.”  John Dulworth, Certified Professional Coach.

  • NYLC staff member, Elizabeth Koenig, presented a session at the NAAEE 40th Annual Conference. Workshop Title: Career Tips for Changing the World: Where Do I Start? “You are never too young to be the change you want to see happen.” [Italics are mine.] Three young people making a difference talk about what motivated them to get started and what they’ve accomplished … so far. Their stories will move you to take action.” October, 2011

  • Be the Change You Want to See [Italics are mine.], by David Truman, The Living Love Fellowship: “If you’re like me, you want something more than the average life, something deeper. We are all tired of the meaninglessness of this world: the superficial interactions, the conversations that don’t go anywhere, the love exchanges that could have been better. Mediocrity is everywhere, and it’s breaking our hearts. But what you may not realize is: the answer to the problem is within you.”

Marketing “Be the Change”

As I proceeded looking, I came upon the CafePress. This tickled me the most. They sell 46,000 items carrying the logo, “Be The Change.” Everything from T-shirts, to Christmas Stockings, to bumper stickers, to refrigerator magnets, to … you name it.

Why this tickled me so is that in February, 1971, while The Love Project was in full swing at Jefferson, I was invited, on scholarship, to participate in a Leadership Training Program in Sonoma County, California, held by The National Center for the Exploration of Human Potential, under the guidance of Herb Otto. I made a presentation of the Love Project story and the principles during the five days. The Program Director, Al Lewis, was so impressed and intrigued that he wanted to “manage” me and the distribution of The Love Project. His plan included getting me television and newspaper interviews across the country and making and distributing T-shirts and memorabilia emblazoned with The Love Principles. I said “no.” Later I told a reporter and photographer from LOOK Magazine, who followed The Love Project for three months while preparing a feature story, that their focus should not be on me but rather on the transformation that was occurring because of the program.

In both cases I was very clear that what was transpiring was a spiritual event, a life-changing happening, and that it needed to be kept pure. A focus on me would have created a false hero. And commercializing what we were doing represented a denser frequency that would distort the imprint we were making.

Now, all these decades later, when “Be The Change” has become a significant catch phrase, 46,000 commercialized versions of it are available through a money-making web site! I see that I could have done all this myself and probably would have become very famous and very wealthy, but it would have been a desecration for me of something very holy.

It is particularly noteworthy that I shunned publicity and potential “stardom” for my accomplishment, given that my whole life up to that time had been focused on becoming a “star” on Broadway. In the middle of conducting The Love Project I had the clarity to know that these were two entirely different subjects. As I reflect on this today I see that no starring role in show business could have equaled the contribution I have made to countless people’s lives over the last four-plus decades.

A Great Turning

As I continued my research on the origin of Be The Change, I encountered a piece by Keith Akers at Compassionatespirit.com who also had wondered if Gandhi really made this statement. He first heard “Be the Change” in conjunction with the Senate candidacy of Mike Miles, during the Democratic primary in Colorado in 2004. He didn’t realize at the time that it was attributed to Gandhi.

Akers has seen the quote in print in various places since then. A Google search got him 176,000 hits. But when he tried to track down the source, no one seemed to know where the quote came from, or when, or where Gandhi actually said it.

Akers said the saying seemed to be primarily aimed at Westerners in the 21st century and that it didn’t seem to be appropriate for Gandhi’s own contemporaries. “Did Mahatma Gandhi actually say it? He may have. But in the meantime, it is my suspicion that this saying is legendary.”

Later, in a November 22, 2009, update on the subject, Akers reports that a friend of his had seen “Be The Change” as a rubber stamp-pad slogan on letters she got during the 1970’s. “This would mean that it has been around for 30 or 40 years, although it still wouldn’t be clear that Gandhi is the source.”

In February, 2011 he reported that Be The Change was adopted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. In March, 2011, he found it in the 1992 edition of Earth in the Balance by Al Gore.

Gore quotes Craig Schindler and Gary Lapid in the Great Turning. The “Great Turning” is a phrase that has come into widespread use to describe the over-arching process that our society is going through that has the potential to take us to a world in which sustainability and cooperation will guide our way of life. We may not even be aware that it is happening, because positive change rarely reaches the level of front page – or even back page – news! It is, however, a process discussed by a great many writers who refer to it by many different names.

Craig Schindler & Gary Lapid used the term “The Great Turning” as the framing idea underlying the work of Project Victory, which they founded in 1985. Their work focused on reducing the risks of nuclear war and conflict transformation. They report that they trained 10,000 leaders in conflict transformation and led a national dialogue on dismantling nuclear weapons.

Craig told Akers he heard “Be The Change” during the 1970’s, and taught courses in the early 1970’s in satyagraha to several hundred law students at Stanford when he was a student there, utilizing this idea. Or course, it was 1970 when the phrase came into being in Brooklyn, N.Y. and by 1972 Mariamne and I were disseminating The Love Principles in our Practice Sessions and through the well-known little-yellow-card that has traveled around world many times.

Since the World Wide Web hadn’t started until 1991, Akers concluded that the phrase originated prior to the “internet phenomenon” days. He continued his search, sure that “Be The Change” appeared before 1989. He found an article in the New York Times opinion pages, dated August 30, 2011, by Brian Morton. Morton disputes that Gandhi ever made the statement, saying there is no reliable documentary evidence for the quotation.

It brought me considerable pleasure to write to Keith Akers with the news of the origin of “Be The Change.” He responded by saying he found my origins report very interesting and had many questions. “I had never heard of The Love Principles. Is there a print source for this somewhere? How did you ‘receive’ these principles? I know this is probably a stupid question but, from whom or what did you receive the principles, can you describe this in any way?” Naturally, we continued our correspondence and exploration.

During my continuing research I Googled Quotations and Inspirations and found a site called “Inspirational Prayers, Poems and Quotations.” I found a wealth of quotes from famous contributors including Socrates, Carl Jung, Albert Schweitzer, Alice A. Bailey, Lawrence LeShan, A Course in Miracles, G. G. Jampolsky, David Spangler, St.. Frances of Assisi, William Blake, to name a few. Sandwiched in the middle, I found:


The LOVE PROJECT principles are:

  • Be the change you want to see happen, instead of trying to change everyone else.

  • Receive all persons, including yourself, as beautiful exactly where they are.

  • Provide others with the opportunity to give.

  • Perceive problems as opportunities.

  • Have no expectations, but rather, abundant expectancy.

  • Create your own reality consciously,rather than living as if you had no control over your life.

REMEMBER: Choice is the life process. In every moment of awareness, you are free to make a new choice.

– The Love Project,

Arleen Lorrance


After that came quotes from The Talmud, The Dalai Lama, Meher Baba, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gandhi, and many more.

Oh, the company I keep!


A Major Recognition

At the end of December, 2011, during a visit with a friend of over 40 years, I asked if she had read her copy of my latest book, The Theatre of Life: Exercising Creative Jurisdiction Over Self. She said off-handedly, and with a wave of her hand, that she had read the first few chapters, but that it was very much like A Course in Miracles and Eckhart Tolle, so she didn’t finish it.

I didn’t say anything at the time because her comment knocked the breath out of me. With a sweep of her hand, she had brushed away almost 25 years of my most innovative and original creative work, profound work which had literally changed forever the lives of participants in the program. While she had compared The Theatre of Life to two very reputable sources, she completely ignored my life work, my unique contributions, and the fact that The Theatre of Life is nothing like The Course of Miracles and Eckhart Tolle, though there may be similarities in philosophy. I felt disrespected, if not dismissed.

I have worked with those feelings over the last six months, letting go little by little, creating a new reality and seeing the problem as an opportunity, reminding myself that it is the ego that suffers in moments like that, not the Self that is awakened and continuing to make significant contributions to the world.

Then, two months later, at the beginning of March, as if to provide an antidote to the disparaging incident, the Universe sent the e-mail inquiring if I was the author of Be The Change You Want to See Happen.   Forty-two years after bringing forth The Love Principles, a major recognition landed on my doorstep to tell me that I, rather than Mahatma Gandhi, had originated this powerful phrase. I said earlier that I felt in good company to have Be The Change attributed to Gandhi. I still feel that. But, even more so, I would have to say that Gandhi-ji was truly one of the greatest examples of embodying this principle the world has ever known. He truly raised the bar for all of us.

In conclusion, I want to quote John Adams on how he felt after writing the preamble to our constitution. After receiving and recording The Love Principles, I too could have said: “When I consider … that I may have been instrumental of touching some springs, and turning some wheels, which have had and will have such effects, I feel an awe upon my mind which is not easily described.”

"For more articles on Be the Change"