Change

1. According to Manasclerk, people grow along different trajectories — I think he’s mainly talking about mentally, but that would include psychology and emotions, too, and would affect things like spirituality and philosophy.

People tend to feel most understood by those on the same trajectory, even if they are at different points along the path.

People on different trajectories tend to misunderstand even when they think they get it — his illustration is one person saying “I’m talking about these six feet” and the other person saying, “Yes, those two feet are important” — the other person simply doesn’t see the other four feet, no matter how the first person explains.

He seems to think there’s not much hope for what I would consider real relationship with people on other trajectories. Instead, the “higher mode” person (his language includes things like “higher” and “bigger” even though he insists it’s about different, and not about better) has to swallow or set aside or ignore those four feet and essentially deal with just the two feet the other person can see.

Some of what he says seems to fit with my own experience — and yet it just doesn’t seem right. And it certainly doesn’t seem very hopeful.

2. Another friend and I were chatting about something else, and I mentioned that I didn’t think people really change. Not in the essentials — if you’re a detail person, you’ll always be a detail person. If you’re not, you likely won’t develop an eye for details or a taste for them.

She thought that’s a horrible thing to believe, and to pass on to my daughter.

Later, I wondered — what if my daughter was dating a felon with multiple repeat convictions? Wouldn’t my belief in essential non-change be good, because it would motivate me to warn her about what she could (and could not) expect from such a man?

Even a less dramatic example. What if her boyfriend merely had some really annoying habits, or differences of values — those are unlikely to change, too, and she can’t go into the relationship thinking she can retrain him to be more like what she wants.

2.5 Habits. With enough repetition, passion, commitment, etc, it seems possible for people to form habits and break others. Is habit-forming an essential change, or a surface change? Does it change the heart? Can it? What role does habit-formation play in spiritual growth, sanctification, overcoming sin, or what-have-you?

This is partly why I lean more towards Calvinism than Arminianism. If I recognize that I am powerless to produce essential change in myself, than I am also freed from the burden of hopeless trying. I can instead trust God to do the change, and apply myself to my own work with a sense of freedom instead of obligation.

I can think, maybe depression really IS an illness, or physiological syndrome, at least, and not something that can be completely overcome by the process of habit-formation. Maybe it really is true that my depression is not the result of my lack of faith, or failure to pray with the right attitude; my faith may be lacking and my attitude may stink, but I’m not completely left on my own to do all the work of fixing those problems.

3. Change can alienate. Another posting of Manasclerk’s mentioned that following your true calling can alienate you from the respect of important people in your life, but that you end up finding other important people instead.

Another friend was talking about Wal-mart, and another about vegetarianism, and others about getting more green.

When I consider another little step in the green direction, or in the direction of knowing where things come from and buying accordingly (i.e. not supporting companies that rely on child labor or unsafe working conditions), or in the direction of spiritual growth, or in any other direction that seems wise and good and necessary, I worry about how it will affect my relationships.

I want to do what is right and good and true, but I don’t want to make myself even more difficult to be with than I already am. I don’t want to be one of those extremists that normal people look askance at and stay away from. To some folks, I already am.

———

What are your thoughts about change?

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8 thoughts on “Change

  1. great post. i think there are different ways someone can change. people can change from being bad to being good, you know? bad and good are large and generic words, but you know what i mean. one can become more understanding, more compassionate, more generous, more patient. i *hope* i am becoming more of each of these things every day. i have seen people go from a life in which their own selves was all that mattered to a life in which others mattered too, even more. or people go from being miserable to being happy. paul on the road to damascus. peter from being a coward to becoming a martyr. augustine.

    if i thing of the ways my husband and i have changed in the course of our relationship, and how our relationship has grown, i have to marvel. really. maybe that’s true of you too. changes happen slowly, then one day you look back and see that it’s like night and day. who knew?

    there are things that do not change, and the examples you bring are exactly what i have in mind. i guess if i am someone who is tidy and orderly i’m probably going to stay that way and if you are not you are probably going to stay that way, though you can make efforts and i can slip. same with love for books, sense of humor, propensity to math, love for sports, etc. (though i have seen people change dramatically in those things, too). i don’t think i’m ever going to become someone who loves girly things. i am never going to become heterosexual. etc.

    i mean, it’s complicated, but it’s absurd and bleak to think that people don’t change. people change every day. i had a terrible rapport with my mom, then we realized it was horrible and are both trying with all we’ve got and have changed. she used not to listen, she listens. i used to be incredibly irritable and violent and i’m no longer so. i used to be more selfish, more unaware of others’ needs, more reckless, sometimes just plain stupid and thoughtless. i’m much more attentive, thanks in no small measure to the grace of god.

    but yeah, habits can change and values can change.

    of course, in order to change, people must want to change. and we can’t get into relationships with people whose traits we don’t like with the expectations that they will change, because that’s a recipe for disaster.

    but hey, if i didn’t think i can change i wouldn’t be killing myself in therapy. some painful things inside me’d better change, man. i believe it with all my heart and my therapist believes it with all her heart and that makes two of us.

    • Thank you, Jo.

      From bad to good — sometimes when I read the Bible I get the impression that there are two standards in effect.

      In one standard, there is the requirement for thorough-going absolute perfection — break one little piece of the law, and you’re guilty of hell — if there were any possibility of your good works outweighing your bad ones, there would be no need for God’s intervention, no need for the Cross.

      In the other standard, you see a lot of rather ordinary people being considered righteous, more or less. Noah, David, all the grumbling wandering Israelites who were not swallowed up in chasms or burned up in flames. James says the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, suggesting that there is such a thing as a righteous person.

      I’m intrigued by the double standard. I think the strict one must be primary, and that only because of the Cross (to which all the promises and sacrifices in the OT look) is the lighter standard possible — and that the lighter standard is pragmatic rather than philosophical — of course those people aren’t REALLY righteous, except because of what grace bestows on them.

      Anyway… point being, yes, I agree, it’s possible to grow in the ways you mentioned, in compassion and consideration and the like. It’s real growth, of real value, with real goodness. But it’s also not REALLY righteous, because nothing we do is unmixed with sin, and we’re never absolutely compassionate or considerate — only more so than we were before.

      Like the parable of the sheep and the goats — have you ever noticed that both halves are absolute? Whatever you do unto the least of these is enough to put you in the sheep, AND whatever you DON’T do is enough to put you in the goats. There’s no hint of relativity — as if having more good works can erase, negate, or outweigh the bad. It makes me wonder what Jesus was really getting at. It no longer seems to be a clear judgment scene, because there’s no possibility of clear judgment of real people in the parable. No one is absolutely a sheep or absolutely a goat.

      ———

      Sometimes I want to change. But am afraid of failure. Afraid of misjudging, thinking that x is something I can change, when maybe x is something I’m stuck with. Afraid my change would be superficial, not lasting, unnatural, even something I would resent after some time. It would sometimes be nice to know which is which, so that I could invest my energy in work that can have results.

      ———

      Painful things inside, needing to change — that’s a different spin on it. Healing as change. I like that.

  2. Having been asked for thoughtful comments, I will do my best. This might mean I have to come back to this later.

    I have uncertain reactions to this right off the bat. Part of me believes people can change–or at least I want to believe that people can change. To some extent, I think (or fear) that you may be right, that people don’t change.

    So let’s think about this. I think the confusion arises in part because of the tension between hopes and anxieties, but in part from some lack of clarity in defining what constitutes a person changing. Clearly we don’t just mean changing hair styles. But what exactly has to change for us to say that a person is different?

    People can change. As a child, as a high schooler, as a college student, as a grad student, I was largely ignorant of _and indifferent to_ matters of fashion and appearance. This remains true to a large extent, but my indifference is eroding. I do not have a knack for personal style (beyond jeans, tshirt, fleece, baseball cap and sneakers.) I am learning, however. I notice what other people wear. I analyze patterns and materials. I watch “What Not to Wear” sometimes, sometimes with horror and sometimes gaining insight. I went out two years ago and bought a whole new set of tailored, more flattering, more fashionable trousers and button-down shirts suitable for professional wear. I requested advice on who knew how to find and cut a flattering hair style. I even looked around to figure out makeup. I bought a new shape of glasses to better suit my face. All of these are actions that would have been wildly out of character 10 or 15 years ago….or probably even 6 or 7 years ago.

    I haven’t changed in many ways. My default is still jeans and a t-shirt. I let the haircut grow out to shagginess and then hide it under caps or bandanas until I get it cut again. I couldn’t figure out where my blush (bought 5 years ago?) was when I thought of wearing some for going out to a play tonight. I don’t regularly wear makeup, though I am trying to develop the habit of wearing SPF/moisturizer. Yet, I’ve changed enough to be conscious of these things. I’ve changed enough to ACT to change my habits, to reset my default status. I will never be fashion forward. I won’t change that much. I can probably be attractive and professional, rather than always frumpy/disheveled/sloppy casual. It will require work on my part, though, because it _isn’t_ my natural mode.

    So I fall between you and your friend on the change question. I don’t think I’d go so far as to say that people don’t change (and qualifying it with “in essentials” feels woolly to me.) But people don’t change spontaneously. Either they work on it, or the universe works on them. Alcoholics might always be alcoholics, but they don’t have to remain drunks. Your daughter’s hypothetical future boyfriend would probably never become, say, a tidy person if he were a slob. He might, however, be trained not to leave dirty socks in the middle of the floor. The default setting for acceptable slobbiness might be ratcheted up, or at least a particular behavior could be altered. It takes work, though, and willingness. And time.

    I was reserved as a schoolgirl. Quiet for years on end, then social but reserved, and finally confident enough to be congenial with most people though comfortable only with a very few. When I went to college, I threw that aside and determined to be someone else, someone more outgoing, someone extroverted and sociable and friendly. I succeeded and failed. I was social, outgoing, better-known, better-connected, more active, hardly ever lonely, able to find and make friends. I was not, however, really an extrovert and I don’t expect I ever will be. I’m at ease in groups now. I can circulate at a party or a meeting. I laugh and make jokes, and I speak my mind, and I draw out others. I’m a good friend and a pretty good colleague. I go back home, though, or into my office, and I sit down and breathe a sigh of relief for a space of solitude afterwards. I learned effective new behaviors, and I implement them easily and readily. It took work, though, for years, and it didn’t change my essentially introverted nature. I know I’m an introvert, but I’m not sure how quickly my newer friends or colleagues would guess or believe that. That strikes me as a change, since NO ONE could have doubted it of 10- to 18-year-old me.

    Points 1 and 3 will have to wait.

    I think your key point in point 2, though, is the question of when and how and if changing habits amounts to changing character.

    Go back to your CS Lewis. He observed that we are a mixture of spirit and animal, which leaves our spiritual state and development partially reliant the actions and physical habits of our animal selves. He was specifically talking about the importance of a supplicant’s position during prayer–kneeling makes a difference, in his assertion–but I think it is relevant to the question. It takes TIME to make or break habits that could be ingrained enough to influence character. That kind of chance can’t happen quickly, but it can happen.

    • Karen, thank you.

      You’re right — clarifying our definitions is important to this discussion, i.e. what counts as real change, something more significant than hair style.

      Interesting that you brought up appearance. That’s an area I’ve been changing in, as well. I still don’t care about what’s considered “in,” and I see no reason to wear make-up, but I do want to dress more… interestingly. To have clothes that fit me well and look good on my figure.

      “In essentials” — I think I meant more like “in essence,” i.e. the core of my being. To what extent do surface changes equate to core changes — how many levels, how much distance, is there between surface and core. What is the core — what is the surface. The search for the real self has long been a concern of mine, and I also think about those branches of the church where outer conformity is the focus and it’s unclear to what extent anyone’s heart is changed.

      Your growth in social skills is inspiring / reassuring. I’m working on that, too.

      Your remark about Lewis reminds me of one of the things I learned in labor. My midwife was coaching me to keep my yelling low in pitch and in volume — high pitch and volume creates a feedback loop — I feel scared and scream, my ears relay the scream to my brain, which receives the “I’m scared” message, and ratchets it all up a notch. Keeping low sends a message of determination and focus, instead.

      Likewise, in DBT, there’s the practice of the half-smile. A full grin can communicate fear and aggression, but a half-smile sends a message of serenity. I thought that was complete bunk at first, but the labor thing made me think twice about it. It’s not enough of a message to overcome my inner thoughts and feelings, but it can stop the feedback loop and throw some peace into the mix.

  3. PPD/depression IS an illness! That’s a fact.
    People do have the ability to change what they can change. I have a husband (and son) who have the uncanny ability to make a decision and change in days. I think it is because they do all the work of change in their heads first so when it happens it seems quick. Most of us take a long time to change.
    I have many skills and gifts but I still am socially inept. I can teach a crowd of people and sell door to door but I’d rather have my own company. I have tended to be very critical.
    After many years I have softened around the edges and am less concerned about what other people think about me.
    God has been my rock because nothing I can do or be, good or bad can change His love for me.

    • Thank you, Jan.

      I don’t question that for some people, PPD / depression is an illness and nothing more. It does seem, though, that for many of us there are other factors besides neurochemistry and hormones — factors like personal baggage and the false beliefs that go along with it and all the fears and everything that those beliefs feed. The interaction between the physiology and the psychology is interesting and confusing.

      Your other stuff reminds me of the Serenity Prayer — about changing what can be changed, accepting the rest, and knowing the difference. DBT deals a lot with that idea, too — learning better how to evaluate situations and our own desires and how to work effectively.

      I always appreciate hearing from you because you’re no longer in this life stage and can look at it with a more experienced perspective. Thank you for your encouragement.

  4. Marcy, my mother’s parenting style did not benefit my childhood and early adult years. I wanted to please and nothing I could do mattered. Of course the mistakes I made were always talked about. When I was much older and parenting some very troubled and difficult foster children my doctor put me on meds and I am still on them today. In spite of personal baggage and a belief that I could/should handle all that life throws at me I found this chemical help improved my outlook dramatically. And my doctor wisely counselled me that it was okay, I was NOT a failure and feeling better with chemical help was allowed. I have been a believer for 58 years and am just now embracing the incredible love that God has for me!

    • Jan, I totally agree — even when there’s personal baggage going on, sometimes medication is helpful or necessary. I functioned fairly well up until PPD, then discovered that I needed to keep up with the meds after PPD, too, albeit at a lower dose. I think one needs to be careful not to try to use meds to avoid reality and ordinary unhappinesses, but they can bring us to the level of ordinary, up and away from morbid.

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