I have always had the motto: “People don’t change.” I don’t exactly know when it started or why, but it just always seemed to make sense. It was an easy proverb to tell your best friend when convincing her not to get back with her ex-boyfriend; it was a trite phrase to comfort your sister when her friends let her down for the millionth time; and it was a great excuse to write-off bad behavior by people by simply stating that they would always be the way they were, so why expect any different?
I have recently discovered that this motto is an absolutely ridiculous and cynical way to view the world and the people in it. Don’t get me wrong, people rarely make noticeable changes without some large life event or dramatic self-realization, but to assume that people never change is ludicrous.
I think the problem stems from the interpretation of the word “change.” For example, if you think of the phrase as, “People don’t grow” instead of “People don’t change,” you are left stupefied about how absolutely insane it would be to think that people don’t grow. Of course people grow! They grow; they mature; they learn; they experience; they fail; they succeed. Life happens, and it leaves them different than before.
I think about my life only in the past three years of college. I reflect on what I thought the truth of the world to be, and I am blown away by how different that truth is now. All of the ideas, opinions, and perceptions I had before have evolved so much. I can only imagine that the same has happened and is continuing to happen to the people in my life.
And although I cannot see the changes in all of my friends, I know they must be there. I recognize that, as humans, we are fallible and that sometimes causes us to be a bit self-involved. So while I could speak a mouthful about how and when and why I have changed through the years, I haven’t really focused on the ways that I have let people down and needed redemption. I have friends that have had moments of weakness when they were not perfect, and I acted harshly. I used this motto as an excuse to believe that this one action defined their character rather than every other choice they had made. Looking back, I can only hope that no one has been so harsh when thinking of me.
As I continue to contemplate this phrase and my newfound hatred of it, I began to think about why people say it to begin with. I had my own moment of self-realization. Maybe we say that people don’t change because we don’t want to admit that we alone are not enough for them to make a conscious decision to act differently. We don’t want to admit that people CAN change, but despite our largest efforts, they CHOOSE not too.
When we think about this in terms of other people, we become offended. But, take a look at your own life. For me, I can name many people and many experiences that have influenced me in the past three years, but I will also say that if someone asked me to change specifically for them, I would not be keen on the idea.
So what should we do with this information? I don’t know about you, but I am going to choose to hope that my experiences with people influence them to become better people and make kinder choices. I am going to choose not to write-off people’s behavior simply because that’s “how they are” and choose to demand good friendship from them. That being said, I am also going to choose to forgive and love people because we are all flawed, and we all learn. Sometimes we hurt people without knowing and without meaning to, but as long as we continue to try we are on the right track. And, in my book, that’s something to be positive about.