People Don't Change

"People don't change." Agree or disagree?

I often hear people condemn others I or they have known like this: "People don't change." This is usually used to say an addict will always use, a cheater will always cheat, an alcoholic will always drink. A privileged person will never learn compassion, an airhead will never find grounding, a misanthrope will never find kindreds. It's fancified in idioms casually offered in conversation: You can't teach an old dog new tricks. A leopard won't change his spots.

"People don't change." But...of course they do; what a ridiculous thing to say. I have a feeling a lot of people who say this mean either a) someone hasn't changed enough for my liking/I haven't seen change I want to see (probably just not a person for you then—people shouldn't be tofu); or b) I don't have to/shouldn't be expected to change, so just be happy with what I am and don't expect any growth or learning or evolution to take place here.

Of course people change. It's such a thoughtless expression, I think, and one that is just kind of an echo or refrain that the singers spend little (or no) time really considering before proclaiming. It's like saying the mountains don't change.

Hear me out. Over the years, weather, forest fires, floods, and human hikers and campers leave their influence all over the mountain, changing its look, terrain, makeup. Sure, the mountain is still the mountain though. And the person is still the person. But that doesn't mean change isn't taking place, or can't take place, or that we're doomed to remain as we began.

Some things about me that remain unchanged: I was born on March 29, 1989. I am a female. I have parents and siblings; I am the middle one. I am highly sensitive. I am on the short and petite side. I am just slightly more extroverted than introverted. I like to read. I like to write. I like to make people feel good and happy. I feel others' hurt tremendously, and my own much more deeply than I would like.

These things may seem trivial, but they're not. They make me me, the person. They are my mountain.

But there is so, so much else about me that is new. That has changed. That has evolved. That has become part of my current personality over the course of years of influence and experience. That alters the way I talk to people, think about people, regard people. Regard myself. I have changed in mannerisms, how I spend my time. How I spend my money. How I hope to spend my life. The people and influences I spend my time with. How I feel about my path in life, and what I think that path is. My purpose, my intentions, my desires.

All these things change, and by them doing so, I change. Alyssa, the person, the mountain, remains, but the terrain doesn't. I think that's an important point to make, in that it proves that a person is changing rather than becoming a new person. (Is that what people who say "People don't change" mean? Are they really objecting to the fact that a person can't become a brand new one on someone's whim?) I am still some foundational pieces of who I've been for the majority of my 26 years. But without even making a sweeping declaration or facing down the barrel of a gun and realizing a need to change, I did. Because that's what life is. A constant rotation of thoughts, of knowledge, of experiences, that all have the power to alter you deeply and profoundly. Maybe the difference is willingness to give into that power.

I don't hold myself up as the only example. I've seen alcoholics and addicts become sober. I've seen the inverse, too. I've seen absent parents become involved ones. I've seen wrongdoers seek redemption. I've seen cheaters commit for life. I've seen flunkies in grad caps and gowns. I've seen plenty of people change for the better, and for the worse. I've seen people change their minds in important and meaningful ways on important and meaningful issues as they catch up to a level of education and experience they once couldn't fathom.

Life should be marked by a constant series of changes and tweaks, because there's no end-point. Or there shouldn't be. You don't change until you become what you should've been and then call it a day. Think of all the kitchens that would still be filled with mustard-yellow or avocado-green appliances if that were the case! No, you keep changing with the world around you. Or, as the expressions go, you get left behind. And that's an important distinction to make too: People can change. Some people just won't, or are afraid to, or don't know how to. Don't make all people suffer from this criticism because of one person on your journey who refused to participate in this beautiful act of growth.

So can we please stop reducing people to an idiom, or dismissing effort and thought and analysis with a simple, "People don't change"? It's lazy, and it's untrue. And it's a way of allowing yourself to hold onto a grudge that doesn't serve you. It's a way to let yourself off the hook of finding space in your heart to forgive someone, or of hearing an apology or explanation, of looking past something painful to the potential of something better just ahead of it. People can change. And if they're trying to, let them.

And if you really don't believe that people can change, let me ask: Haven't you ever changed, even just once? If you haven't, I really, really recommend it.

_______________________________

This word salad brought to you by some really jumbly thoughts in my head, and a podcast 
I was listening to the other morning—I can't remember which—that held this maxim as truth.

Comments

  1. people can totally change - IF THEY WANT. that's the key; many people can and do change; others just don't give a fuck and don't. those are the most difficult people to deal with and in a lot of cases, they are stubborn and sometimes selfish and think it's their way or nothing.

    life is always changing; i can't see how one can NOT change along with it, even if it's a small change.

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  2. I absolutely agree! I've had friends make accusing remarks like, "You've changed" or "She's not even the same person anymore" and it always has such a negative cast to it. But that's ridiculous! We're all changing all the time. Without change, growth wouldn't be possible and we'd all still be asshole teenagers. So I definitely think (and hope) that people change, BUT I can think of one situation where the "people don't change" mindset might be helpful.

    I know a few people that stick around in bad relationships hoping for the other person to change. Or who keep going back to the same person because, "It's different this time." And while it's totally possible for someone to change, basing your current happiness on a future possibility is not a good idea. So while I might say to a friend in that situation, "People don't change" what I should really say is, "People don't change until they want to. No outside factor will make it happen."

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  3. Love the new look, lady!

    So I am on both sides of the change idea. Clearly, everything changes. As the quote says 'the only constant thing in life is change', we can't remain stagnant or we die. I get that, 100%. But, I don't think people change as much as they just get better at hiding who they are. I remember this quote from Private Practice that the character Amelia says "People don't change. They modify. They adjust. Underneath, we are who we are. People just get better at covering up their flaws." and I find myself agreeing with that. I do believe people can rehabilitate, but at their core, do they still want that drink? Do they still want to hurt people? Are they still that scared person but just fake the bravado?

    I 100% believe that people can grow and learn and become better, but I don't think at our core we can change who we are, but hey, that's just me. I really like your post and how you laid everything out, well done, lady!

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  4. I totally agree with this - people change on their own terms when they are ready! I once had a BF that I thought was always going to be a cheater because that's what he did to me and countless other girls, but as it turns out he did that because he was young, stupid and immature and today he's engaged and I imagine (LOL) he hasn't cheated on her! Well I hope he hasn't, but the point is I think people can change lol! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

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  5. I've finally started accepting that I can't make people change, only I can change. To expect other people to change is insanity, mostly because of what Kathy said, only if the WANT to change, do they change and waiting on people to change is just stupid.. or at least that's the lesson I'm currently in the process of learning the hard way.

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  6. I think it's used to explain behavior we should not be surprised at or hurt by, or to indicate that us being hurt is the fault of the other person when really it's our expectations that are out of whack.

    I know some things about me will never change at the core, and I know some things about me always will. Overall as people we're constantly evolving - we're the sum of all of our experiences. Every day changes us in some way.

    As for real huge change, I believe in it if the desire is there. My husband is an alcoholic and I've watched him be sober for over a year and a half. It's a change I never thought I'd see and one that has brought so many other changes. All because he had the desire for it and the grace to ask for help. So where I might've been one to say "people don't change," in the past, I'm not one to say that now.

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  7. I completely agree with you, and I love the way you describe you as a mountain...and the mountain is always there but that the terrain can change! Perfect!!! I feel like there are things about me that will never change, and I don't want them too because they make me, me. But I am glad that I am open minded and can adapt to different things. Maybe my view on something might change, or I might enjoy something I once thought I never would.

    As far as other people go, I strongly believe that people can only change if they want to change. They can't be forced in to it, it has to be completely their decision. I absolutely thing that they can make the change.

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  8. i think there is some core of us that is unchanging but we learn to adapt to get what we want... if that makes sense? which is changing I guess. haha and now all i can think of is this scene from bridesmaids. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7L2sVq4bzQ

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  9. Amen sister. I think people definitely CAN change, it's just if they WANT to. I have someone in my life who always excuses all of her less than stellar qualities and ways of acting by saying "it's who I've always been and I am who I am, so don't try to change me." People like that? You can't fight them. They won't change unless they feel like it.

    As for me, I'm glad that over years I have changed. I hope my changes continue to be good and that I keep evolving!

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  10. I am a HUGE supporter of people learning, growing, evolving, and yes...changing. I hate to quote Michael Jackson, but people gotta want to "Make that Change" to make it happen. I've seen it in close personal experiences. I've made changes in myself that desperately needed to happen. I've witnessed family members change. Plus...an addict wasn't always an addict. They were "changed" by their addiction, and they can "change" to give up their addiction...but they gotta work, and they gotta want it.

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  11. Totally agree! When I first started practicing yoga, the instructor once told the class that seven years from now, every single cell in our bodies will have regenerated and be different than the cells we have at this moment. I thought that was such a cool way to look at it -- like, if you're constantly changing physically/biologically, of course you can change in other ways too.

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  12. can I hug this post?! seriously. love it. my favourite part - if people want to change, let them. love it! a song i used to love goes like this: I've lived in this place and I know all the faces, Each one is different but they're always the same, They mean me no harm but it's time that I face it, They'll never allow me to change.
    I remember hearing that for the first time and it blew my mind. My older brother is a douche, but he's less of a douche than he was when we were kids, but i will never look past that, I will never allow him to change, to accept that he has. If that makes sense. My father could have become sober and a priest for all I care, he would never change in my eyes. I will always be blonde to my family and friends at home and they still hate my brown hair... I can think of a million other examples but I won't clog your comment feedy thingy again.. but it's true. Big or small, people change, but it's other people who don't allow it.. so they leave, or ignore it, and then they say 'people don't change' because in their minds, they haven't. make sense?
    i'm going to stop now. but seriously. i love this post with all my post loving heart.

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  13. I love this post so much. It's so... factual. The problem, I think, is that people are always looking for change to be dramatic and immediately noticeable. That's not how it works most of the time. Like you said, you can make grand sweeping changes, and of course people will notice them right away. More often that not change is comprised of many little things day in and day out. And I agree that even though someone may have changed, it's the other people who may refuse to see the change. They're blinded for their dislike of whatever it is that even the smallest of improvements goes unnoticed.

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  14. I think people can change but they have to want to change. I have changed and evolved and grown in the last few years and even in the last year there has been major changes in my life that caused me as a human to bw vastly different. So I agree "can we please stop reducing people to an idiom" <--- you are fucking brilliant!

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  15. I think that people can definitely change if they want to! Love this post!

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  16. I completely agree that people can change. IF they want to. And IF they think they need to and sadly in my experience, that's usually a huge no. This is a great post and I love it.

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