When I was a child, I heard a wonderful story. Like all good tales, it is appealing in its simplicity, and it stays with you over the years, taking on new layers of meaning as time goes by. It goes something like this …

“The sun and the wind were arguing over which of them was the more powerful. After a while, they noticed a man walking along the street, and they decided to settle the dispute with a competition to see who could make a man take off the heavy coat he was wearing. The wind went first – he blew and blew with all his might, mustering great bursts of energy, but the man just buttoned up his coat and wrapped it around himself more tightly to protect himself against the storm. Exhausted, the wind subsided and admitted defeat. Relaxed and smiling, the sun took over and, without effort, he spread his warm rays across the earth. After a while, the man became hot and started to sweat. He unbuttoned his coat and continued to walk along. As the sun’s rays continued to saturate the earth, the man became so hot that he took off his coat.”

Anthony de Mello, an Indian writer, said that the only sensible thing we can do is ‘dance our own dance.’ In truth, it is the only thing we can do. Trying to change other people – their thoughts, their beliefs, their behavior – he wrote, is like trying to teach a pig to sing – it gets you nowhere and only annoys the pig. And yet how many of us are like this! How often do we try to do the impossible – force other people to change? Wouldn’t life be easier if we just ‘danced our own dance’?

Most people are like the wind. They can make a long list of things which annoy or upset them about people in every area of their lives – work, family, neighbors, politicians, religious groups – and they go about trying to change the world around them, which includes other people, by force.

But trying to force the world around you to change – and that includes the people in your life – is pointless, self-defeating and damaging. You don’t need to take responsibility for the way other people think or behave and you can’t change it. Stop using your energy on trying to change the world, and you’ll be happier, calmer, freer and more creative.

When you take your hands off the wheel, you might actually find the world around you starts to change for the better, and this is precisely because your energy isn’t going into pushing against the world, but into being an example – a beacon – to others. Influence, it would seem, is far more powerful than force.

Next time you are tempted to try to control and change someone else, remember Anthony de Mello’s last recorded words, a prayer to which I often turn:

Don’t change: Desire to change is the enemy of love.
Don’t change yourselves: Love yourselves as you are.
Don’t change others: Love all others as they are.
Don’t change the world: It is in God’s hands and he knows.
And if you do that change will occur
Marvelouslyin its own way and in its own time
Yield to the current of life unencumbered by baggage.