Many years ago, a younger colleague unequivocally and with great wisdom boldly asserted that no one changes.
He was an engineer, and speaking in factual, authoritative tones comes easily to them. Writer me responded with, but we humans do change, we keep redesigning ourselves throughout our lives, growing into different versions of who we are and who we want to be. Our debate on the topic kept us entertained for a week. We never did resolve our different points of view, which was fine.
Changing exterior things is easy. You can change:
Your sheets and towels —
You don’t grow into them.
Growing takes determination and hard work.
You can broaden your life by:
Learning the previously unknown,
Loving from the depths of your heart,
Expanding your world with travel,
But does this cultivation of the new change you?
People start life displaying a certain amount of defined characteristics. From birth when a parent recognizes that this baby is always smiling while that one is quiet and serene or another doesn’t sleep because, maybe she’ll (yes, me) miss what’s going on around her, there are parts of us that may stay the course throughout our lives.
Somewhere along the way many of us lose ourselves, with circumstances initiating transformations whether we wanted them or not. If we’re lucky, and determined, we begin recovering the best parts of who we were. We work to steer our path the direction of who we want to be by enhancing the underlying traits from our childhood.
In the end — as if there is ever an end to the evolution of us — what we have is a more defined version of the person we already were. Haven’t you seen it? We become better at being what we already are. If we had a temper, but are a basically happy person, the temper mellows. If we are temperamental and unhappy, the temper becomes volatile.
I question change and the people who say those words with profound conviction. “I changed, now I am….” I can’t say that. I can state, “Look at how I’ve grown — see how much like myself I once again seem to be.” But changed? No, not really. I’ve simply gotten better at being me.
There was once a poor marital choice, purposeful distance from my family by the husband (my culpability is always wanting adventure and I did, at least, gain everlasting friends from the California relocation), and a real Sleeping With the Enemy existence. His exploitation was so gradual and smoothly executed that I didn’t realize how much of the relationship was his sheer overpowering of all things me.
Segue to the move to the Montana, being around my older sister and her family and after yet another odd spousal interaction, Jackie blurted out, “What happened to my sister? I want her back!” I had changed, but not for the better, rather due to constant, daily manipulation — which is alteration to one personality caused by another and unlikely to be permanent once you’ve extricated yourself from a clingy entanglement.
When you watch children interact, especially when they’re roleplaying, they are open about who they are. Kids are blatant and demanding, and the world revolves around them. Children have the right idea. Think how happy a toddler is when they make a statement of need and receive what they want. It is not the same for grownups. We maneuver ourselves or others and judge and think-through and analyze and decide what is okay, what isn’t okay, what could be okay if only…. Each choice gets weighed against our past and what we perceive as the future, which we can’t control anyway.
The older I get, the more I come to the belief it is through age that we discover we must let experience more than that debating guide our decisions and involvements with people.
Change and growth, either one, are derived from taking risks. From stepping outside the safety net of the known and plunging forward in an unvarying leap of faith. I love the line from The Mummy movie, when Rick says, “I only gamble with my life, never my money.” That sentence is a complete character sketch and I find myself agreeing with it.
I may not risk my life in physical ways, but I do risk where I am and what I’m doing within my physical bounds. You won’t find me at Atlantic City or Las Vegas in any fast hurry to spend even the normal-citizen minimum of $200 at the blackjack table. I’d rather have a sure $200 in my pocket to use for travel than risk losing my hard earned cash over something that I cannot control like a slot machine.
But If I don’t try experiments with my life, then why keep living? If I don’t get to know different people, read other genre books, see an assortment of movies, eat unique foods, travel to any destination, go to a museum I wouldn’t normally be attracted to, then what is the point in continuing to breathe? Those activities help me grow, keep me going back to the person I should be, the person who was whole the day she was born when God first let her loose in the world.
I will certainly change my mind about things along the way. But none of it will change me as a person. I won’t suddenly decide to become bigoted or prejudiced. Although my childhood world was white as could be, I was not raised to be a racist, nor did life lead me down that narrow-minded path.
My father worked building railroad cars and as I came to the age of understanding prejudice, I asked him if he worked with any black people. Yes, he answered. And, I asked what were they like? He smiled and said, “The same as white people — there are good ones and there are lazy ones. People are the same no matter the color of their skin.”
When I was old enough to read about World War II and the concentration camps, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how anyone would want to obliterate a group of people. My mother was raised a staunch Catholic and I asked her, what does anyone have against the Jews? She shrugged and said that she didn’t understand it, that although a group of Jewish leaders who felt their power threatened by Jesus urged Pontius Pilate to kill Christ, it wasn’t logical to hold today’s Jews accountable for those actions.
I won’t throw my core beliefs out the window and go 180° in the other direction. But I will change my opinion, liberating my mind from old confines. I may learn to enjoy something new, much like cooking with onions. As a child, I would pick them out of any cooked food, as an adult I relish slicing them up and sautéing them in any dish I can.
So, my engineering friend, these many years after our first discussion of this topic, I’m sticking with the premise that people change, evolve and grow throughout the decades of our lives. You?