Be the Difference Today
by Christopher Joseph
In February 2015 the ‘Be the Difference Today’ movement was launched by my friend and cousin Rich Waterman (www.bethedifference.today).
It has been established to support people in allowing them to celebrate who has been the difference for them in their lives and also to encourage recognition and acknowledgment of when they have been the difference for themselves and possibly others, even if only in some small and simple way. This is not some drive to bolster egos but an honest and genuine appreciation of times when we, or others, have been, or are being the difference. This recognition might be through the sharing of a personal story that ends up inspiring others, or it might be in the silent recognition of an important difference that we feel someone has made for us.
The ethos of this movement is very much in line with celebrating and ‘letting in the good’. This is a critical factor in appreciating and becoming contented with our life and ‘hardwiring our happiness’ as I wrote about in a recent article: ‘Hardwiring Happiness with Mindfulness’.
When I first learnt of this movement I felt a very strong connection with its name: ‘Be the Difference Today’ and I immediately felt it’s alignment with mindfulness. On reflecting as to why I felt this connection there are three key points that have arisen, and that I’ll address in this article:
1: It’s ‘Be the Difference Today’ not ‘Make a Difference Today’.
We currently live in a frantic world, in which we are subject to pulls and distractions on our attention at a level that we have never experienced before. As T.S. Eliot wrote we are often “Distracted from distraction by distraction!”
We also live in a world in which success and achieving has become intrinsically linked with what we do rather than who we are. This is dangerous, because a life of frantic ‘doing’ and operating constantly in the achieving mode in order to build our self-esteem creates fragile foundations! When our self-esteem is based on a judgement about how well we are doing in comparison with others, no matter how subtle, then low self-esteem is only around the corner whenever those comparisons become less favourable in our eyes! This can potentially be the start of a slippery slope that leads to feelings of low self-worth, anxiety and sometimes depression.
A result of living in the ‘doing mode’ rather than the ‘being mode’ is that we often spend far more time in our head (conceptual thinking) rather than our body (perceptual awareness). This can lead to us feeling disconnected with our body and also to the world around us, since we perceive this world through the 5 bodily senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.
‘Be’ the difference today puts the emphasis on the importance of ‘being’, of inhabiting our body and connecting with ourselves, others and the world around us in each and every moment.
A nice antidote to the striving definition of success given above is that used by Ben Zander who is the conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and also a passionate motivational speaker. His definition of ‘success’ is based on whether the eyes of the people around him are shining? If they’re not shining then he gets to ask himself a powerful question: “Who am I being, or not being, that the eyes of the people around me are not shining?” This leads us on to the second point…
2: We are having an effect, or ‘being the difference’, in each and every moment whether we like it or not!
Unfortunately there is no opt-out here! As soon as we get up in the morning and enter the conscious state then we are having an effect on ourselves through the quality of the thoughts we give attention to, and on others through the quality of our speech and actions. We have a responsibility!
The word ‘responsibility’ often carries a heaviness with it in its everyday usage – I have a responsibility to my family, children, work, colleagues, parents etc. However, if we break the word down into its component parts then it simply means ‘the ability to respond’. This ability that we have to respond to a situation is not always immediately obvious when we’re in the throes of life. For many people this can be a massive realisation when they start practising mindfulness – they actually have the ability to choose to respond creatively, rather than react habitually, to their situation no matter how challenging that situation may be.
Our ability to respond creatively to what the world throws at us is definitely increased when we inhabit the ‘being’ mode and are more connected with ourselves and the world at large. When we get caught in the ‘doing’ mode we are more likely to be running on unconscious autopilot and as a result we can often react habitually to events without even realising it until later!
Living more from a place of being doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t do anything! When we are fully able to be with ourselves and accepting of ourselves then a great energy can often be released as we drop the story of ‘me’ and ‘I’, even if only for a brief moment.
This state of being and its associated energy release is often called the state of ‘flow’, and it can be a very pleasurable, creative and often active state to be in. This is far from the sedentary mode that often gets associated with ‘just being’. In fact, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book ‘Flow’ talks of all kinds of people including composers, artists and also sportspeople who can enter this place of being and the very creative action that can often arise as a result.
The ‘difference’ that we become for ourselves and others can therefore simply be attributed to how we ‘are’ – our level of ‘being’ or ‘presence’ in the moment, but also to the actions that spring from this place of being, from this deeper, wiser, more mindful and connected place. These actions, because they flow from us rather than being forced out of us, are more spontaneous, freer and congruent with who we are as human beings.
The other important word in the phrase is of course the word ‘today’. Just like everyone else I have at times in the past put things off and delayed in taking action on something I knew was the right thing to do… and usually regretted it afterwards! The ‘today’ part of ‘be the difference today’ reminds me of the ‘now-ness’ of this precious opportunity to live more from a place of ‘being’.
But why do we need this reminder? After all we are called ‘human beings’ not ‘human doings’! This brings us onto the third and final key point:
3: This is a practice!
Whilst it is true that as ‘human beings’ the state of ‘being’ is our most natural state, it is unfortunately not our most common state. It has been conditioned out of us by the constant and ever increasing calls and demands of this ‘doing-based’ world. As soon as you finish reading this article, or possibly whilst still reading it, you’ll probably be distracted by something – maybe the ping of an SMS alert, email pop-up, phone call, front door bell or your boss!
It’s difficult to remain seated in a place of being connected with the body when there’s so much trying to pull us into the conceptual, thinking, head-driven mind. This is why we need to practice ‘being’, and one clear way of doing this is through the practice of mindfulness.
Practices such as the body scan, mindfulness of breathing and mindful movements can help us connect with our body. Mindfulness of sounds, our surroundings and daily activities help us to connect with the world, and through kindness meditations we can connect more deeply with ourselves and others.
These three points summarise why I feel such a strong connection with the phrase ‘Be the Difference Today’. It’s a reminder to me for the need to move from the busyness of ‘doing’ to the stillness of ‘being’. It’s a reminder to me that I have a ‘response-ability’ – I’m having an effect simply by my presence in this world so I may as well do what I can to make this a positive difference, and to do this today. It’s also a reminder that in order to increase my chances of ‘being the difference today’ for myself and others in a positive way, no matter how small, then I need to practice. For me that practice is mindfulness, because for the last 7 years it’s allowed me to live far more from a place of awareness, kindness and contentment than anything else I have ever done in my life.
‘Be The Difference Today’ is therefore, in my eyes, a strong and powerful call to practice… to be present.
What does it mean for you?