Have you ever been in a really bad relationship and when you’ve finally had enough and manage to get yourself away from this “toxic” person – be it a spouse or a friend or a family member – they come crying saying they’ll change, if only you’ll give them another chance?
Have you ever heard about career criminals who find religion or education or something in prison and claim they’ve changed and are new people now?
Have you ever been in a workplace where they think with a little training they can turn that reclusive egghead huddling in the corner cubicle into a dynamic team-player who will be able to go across the country and give dazzling presentations to clients?
Do you believe any of these? Do you believe people can change like that?
I don’t think people can change who they are. I think people can learn certain skills. I think people can acquire knowledge that will help them modify their beliefs and thought processes. I think as people mature and/or as their life circumstances change, they make adjustments to their behaviours or to how they live their lives.
I think a good program and lots of support will help an alcoholic or drug addict stop drinking or taking drugs, but that does not stop them from having an addictive personality.
Anger management might help stop the abusive spouse from physically lashing out at people, but will not stop him from being an abusive person.
And my employer can send me on a million team-building workshops and I will never play well with others. I will learn how to pretend I don’t want to slash my own wrists next time I’m put on a team project, and I may accumulate some tools that will help me survive the project, but I will never be a team person.
Becoming a parent (and old age) has modified my behaviour so I go to work like a good citizen every day; I don’t stay up late; I don’t engage in risky activities; I set a good example. I’ve also mellowed in my reactions and judgments on things. And I think – I hope – I’ve learned a hell of a lot more over the years about all sorts of stuff. And that has also shaped who I am today, but basically, I’m the same person I’ve always been.
Because, sometimes, when I hear a song from my youth, or smell a certain scent or look at an old photo …. how I long to shake off these decades of relative respectability and just do something really stupid again. It’s like an actual physical craving – like there’s a demon idiot lurking deep in my psyche somewhere, long supressed, just waiting for an opportunity to let loose.
I imagine this must be something like how the addict feels or the pedophile who’s been “cured” or the guy who spent 20 years of his life robbing banks and has been “rehabilitated” for a while. No matter how many layers of therapy or good intentions or years of being straight they’ve wrapped themselves in; they are who they are at their core.
I don’t think anything can change that. And, I don’t think it would take too much, depending on their level of self-discipline, to give in to that craving.
I don’t know. I’ve never known anyone or heard of anyone who’s undergone a real transformation. Have you?