The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy famously said that while everyone talks about changing the world, no one talks about changing himself or herself.There is a limit to introspection. Wise and useful people who remain free know when to stop fiddling with their innards and get to work.

Tolstoy had some great quotes. But is this one true?

On the one hand, it absolutely is. If we want to change the world we have to begin with ourselves, for several reasons. First, integrity demands that we not require anything of anyone that we will not do ourselves. If we want a more generous world, then we at least ought to be generous ourselves. Second, we have no control over other people’s hearts and actions. We do control our own. And so, spending our effort to change what is beyond our control is pointless. What we can do is become a model for others, and hope that our example influences them. Third, it’s foolish to build something that our own actions keep undermining.

On the other hand, there is no shortage of introspection in this world. Every great religion and philosophy has stressed self-improvement. All of that is valuable, but not of unlimited value.

There is a time to contemplate and cultivate inner virtues, and then there is a time to get to work. There is a time to reflect on feelings and fears, and time to shove them aside, put the women and children in the lifeboats, and one’s manly duty by going down with the ship. The wise, good, and free person knows the difference.

© Greg Smith, 2013

Greg is the founder and chief creative officer of Black Lake Studio ( He is also a writer and speaker, working in a variety of non-fiction and fiction genres, and frequently collaborates with other authors. You can read and learn more at his site, (
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