Be the cog you want to see in the machine

Colorful cogs, by Pexels on Pixabay

“Be the cog you want to see in the machine” is a line from an email signature I came across recently. I find it funny and profound.

It repurposes Ghandi’s well-known exhortation to “be the change you want to see in the world” into a version that acknowledges an unfortunate reality: no matter our best intentions, we are still part of a bigger, broader machine; we’re only small cogs in it.

What the machine is might vary depending on your circumstances. Maybe it is the company you’re employed by, or maybe it is academia. It can be a family you can’t escape, or maybe it is something broader — like capitalism or Western society. In all these cases there is a common theme: you, the individual, are but a small piece in the larger system, and you have no choice but to operate within it.

The only remaining question is: how do you want to operate within it? Do you want to conform to what the machine wants, and aim for maximum personal gain? Do you want to achieve influence within the system, and then try to use that influence to try to change the machine itself? Or do you want to be a rattly little cog that’s trying to blow up the machine altogether?