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Can a bumper sticker be profound?

Yesterday afternoon, emerging from the library, I spotted one of those bumper stickers — some variant on “Be the change you want to see.”

As a statement, I’ve always put that right up with “My child is an honor student at Pink Floyd Middle School” and “Scuba divers do it deeper.” Or rather, I’ve perceived it as well-meaning, suspiciously idealistic, and pat enough to fit on a sticker, but not a stirring call to action.

As I started to dismiss it again yesterday, I had a flash of enlightenment.

Okay, about 15-watt enlightenment, but still.

As I watched the bright yellow slogan zip past in the street, I realized, “Wait, that’s the whole message, isn’t it?” Live and act according to ideals. The slogan’s usually used in a collectivist, do-gooding way (or so it seems to me), but it’s the very thing we’re always going on about.

I think I’ve dismissed the saying because, in the hands back windows of most people, I perceive “Be the change” not only as shallow or meaningless, but as predominantly other-directed despite its advocacy of individual change: “Behave well, and hope other people behave well, and if they do, we’ll have a different world.”

There’s an element of that in living free, too. I sure hear a lot of freedomistas wanting to pass forward not only certain values, but certain skills, traditions, and habits to new generations. And now we’re hearing more frequently about freedom communities, formal or informal.

But when it comes to freedom, “being the change” is sufficient even if we stand alone — collectivist world-changing idealism aside. By practicing freedom, we “get good” at it in ways that benefit us and those around us. And it makes us better people and better neighbors even if our efforts are imperfect, as in this unfree world they so often are.


Have you seen the movie Hacksaw Ridge? It’s about one of those rare birds who just will not compromise and will not back down on a basic principle, and who because of his sheer, bloody-minded, ever-patient, rock-solid belief does amazing deeds.

After I blogged in March about anti-gun Wanda, a friend sent me one of those cool sets containing a DVD, Blu-ray, and code for a digital copy, suggesting I share a viewing with W. He papered over all the descriptive copy on the box, thinking it best to come cold to the film, with no preconceptions.

He didn’t know I’d already seen it. But that was okay, because thanks to his gift, I came back to it with new eyes. I’d liked it enough the first time, but would probably never have watched it again except … here it was. And it meant something to my friend, who is often enormously insightful about his mailings, and is a finder of seriously “next level” movies.

I’ve since shared it or lent it three times (though not to Wanda) and all who viewed it were deeply moved. On second and third viewing, I’m seeing it in a more meaningful light.

Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, who’d vowed never to touch a gun. Yet he joined the Army in World War II to be a medic. The Army and Doss had entirely different ideas about a medic’s duty to master and carry a firearm, but in the end (hardly a spoiler), Doss went unarmed into some of the most savage fighting in the Pacific.

The movie fictionalizes or meddles with details of his family life and details of stateside military procedure. But when it comes to what Doss did on Okinawa, Mel Gibson (director) and his writers actually had to downplay some of the man’s actual heroics because they figured nobody would believe them (or more likely for better pacing in the movie, but I like their story better).

If you’ve seen it, what did you think? Was there a moment that it especially grabbed you by the heart or gut?

See it if you haven’t already, even if war movies aren’t your thing (they’re certainly not mine) or if you quail at Mel Gibson’s pain-and-gore approach to filmmaking (and there’s abundance of that here). Knowing that, for once, a “true story” of principle and heroism is really a true story is only the beginning.


Sometimes those bullheaded, super-principled non-compromisers are mere PITAs who get smashed in the end. Sometimes they’re just plain a**h*les. Sometimes they’re saints or heros.

For those of us not destined for heroism or sainthood, and those who’d prefer not to be head-butting fanatics avoided by polite company, well … there’s a spectrum, and we can “be the change we wish to be” somewhere on that curve.


On a different note, from the scant evidence that the “Be the change” bumper slogan is having any effect on either action or discourse on the left, I’m thinking those guys have as little success persuading their fellows as we in the liberty movement do.


  1. Fred M.
    Fred M. July 20, 2019 12:08 pm

    What I found interesting about the movie was that the conscious objectors (CO) I’ve encountered either are using the CO status to avoid going to war and maybe being injured or killed, or really have deep seated convictions to avoid any form of war, even in a rear echelon position. Doss was a CO who didn’t want to be in a position to kill anyone, but he had no compunction about helping to save lives and mend the wounded by being a field medic. He really epitomizes the phrase “be the change you want to see”. God Bless him!

  2. Comrade X
    Comrade X July 20, 2019 12:51 pm

    Great movie. When he stayed behind to help the wounded and was dropping them down off the cliff, if you were not a believer in the character of that man up & until then you sure should be after that, which methinks went for those who were there with him.

    There’s another movie about a CO called Sgt York with Gary Cooper, he was bad, very bad then got faith and became very good but didn’t want to go to war because of his beliefs however after being there did what he had to do the same as Doss.

    To me people can do right but come at it in completely different directions.

  3. larryarnold
    larryarnold July 20, 2019 2:53 pm

    Was there a moment that it especially grabbed you by the heart or gut?
    When he picks up the Garand, but uses it to get a grip on the blanket.

  4. david
    david July 20, 2019 3:27 pm

    The variation on ‘be the change’ that I remember most often and clearly is “Be the ball”. You ‘cool kids’ know the movie it came from.

  5. StevefromMA
    StevefromMA July 20, 2019 5:30 pm

    Actually, I thought Sgt. York was a very good movie about a moral man who loved his family. After he becomes an unintentional hero and returns home, sharpies in America want him to promote a breakfast cereal and he is puzzled. “But I don’t eat that cereal.” Never sold out. He realized he did what he thought he had to but wasn’t proud of killing people.

  6. Joel
    Joel July 21, 2019 8:25 am

    Claire, in a way “Be the change you want to see” is the message I’ve heard you preach ever since I first started reading your stuff 20-odd years ago. The saying itself is unbearably trite separate from specifics, but you have always suggested that freedomistas give up waiting for someone to impose freedom on us and work on making our own lives as free as possible no matter what anybody else does. Or at least that’s what I always took from it. Always found it pretty good advice, too.

  7. Ron Johnson
    Ron Johnson July 21, 2019 9:21 am

    The moment that got me was when he tried to save the wounded Japanese soldier.

  8. Ron Johnson
    Ron Johnson July 21, 2019 9:28 am

    Another movie about a man trying to do the right thing despite huge personal cost is “Locke.” Critics only gave it 2 stars but I thought it was such an inspiring story of a man with unshakeable integrity that i ordered it from Netflix twice.

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