Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Can People Change?

In considering this question, I've taken inventory of the people I know. There are two people who come to mind who used to have lightning quick tempers.

They have both successfully learned to control the destructive expressions of their anger. But does that mean that they have CHANGED? Isn't a new skill (even a major one like that) just that - a new skill? Does it actually signify change?

Yes, life-changing experiences can have impact - traumatic events, becoming a parent, growing old - and sometimes that impact can be deep. But does even that signify actual change?

I was having trouble with this line of thought. I was getting lost in considering existential definitions of "change" and getting sidetracked by all sort of digressions which I think I will save for future posts. But then I had a conversation with JN who read to me the following:

Humanity is fundamentally conservative, as indeed is all of nature. No organism ever expends more energy than necessary, risks anything if it doesn't have to, or takes any action unless it must. Why should it? If a task can be done in an easy way without risk of loss or pain, or the expenditure of energy, why would any creature do the more difficult, dangerous, or enervating thing? It won't. Nature doesn't allow it... and human nature is just an aspect of universal nature.

Robert McKee, Story

That simplified the question for me. Change is absolutely possible. But it will be in step with what is NECESSARY. Sometimes people don't change in relation to their changing circumstances and therefore fail to adapt and suffer the repercussions. Others do adapt. But then it will be according to what is necessary, and no more.

I'm not even sure that this is a pessimistic view of humanity. Because I think there can be leaps of faith and imagination and courage when it comes to defining what is necessary. And that depends on the quality of the person doing the defining.

1 comment:

Robespierre said...

I always think of the ability to change the same way I think about genetics and epigenetics. One's genetics seem highly predictive in any number of ways for an individual (separated twin studies show incredible coincidences and similarities between them). Yet while identical twins have the exact same DNA sequence, but each individual has a different environment with which he or she interacts. Someone may have genetics that predispose them to certain kinds of cancer but they may never encounter the environmental triggers that cause the cancer to develop.

So it is with change. People do not fundamentally change. They are who they are. But we can learn and unlearn ways that this "fundamental self" interacts with the world around it. My experience tells me that that these kinds of changes only come about from pain -- making the change feel "necessary" to avoid that pain from recurring. C-Belle's intuition about change seems correct to me.