Monday, February 17, 2014

Do People Change?

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Albert Einstein

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large -- I contain multitudes.”

Walt Whitman

The trick this morning is to write quickly and well.  The trick today is to manage my time well.  Two unexpected tasks came up.  I completed one and I’ll get started on the other soon.  I’m happy to do both of them, but I want to keep this week in mind.  I start my new math class tomorrow and I want it to go well.  In my mind I see my students being successful, beyond their own expectations.  That will be my biggest challenge and my only real focus.  Teaching math will be easy, but can I teach adolescents how to change their beliefs about themselves?
Can I change my beliefs about myself?  If I can’t, then I’m doomed to failure.  A friend used to tell me, “You can only take people as far as you’ve gone yourself.”
How far have I gone?  What do I believe about myself?  Do I really, really, really believe I can be successful?  Do I really, really, really believe I can get my house on the beach?  Do I really, really, really believe I can write and speak for a living one day?
And yes.
No, because I still struggle with so many things.  I still lose my temper.  I still have trouble staying focused and organized.  I still get stressed out too easily.  I still succumb to fear.  These are habits and thought patterns I have had for decades.  Decades.  I once had a professor tell me that people don’t really change.  I remember that professor.  She lashed out at me one evening after class.  For about two minutes, with someone observing, she let loose a storm of criticism and anger that left me shaken and pale.  Perhaps her criticisms and anger were even justified.  I was struggling in that class.  When we tried to resolve things in a subsequent meeting, she said that people don’t really change.  I think she believed I would never change.  Because I liked her and her class, I took this to heart along with her other comments.
Further evidence for people not changing came to me at my 20th high school reunion.  I noticed how many of my former classmates’ core personalities had remained constant.  The nerds were still nerdy.  The jerks were still jerks.  And the nice people were still nice. 
So if people don’t change, can I really change?  Can I expect these kids to change?
Yes, to both questions.  First, in regard to the professor who attacked me, I realized later that I put too much stock in her opinion.  She was just a human being and, in my case at least, a pretty flawed one.  To criticize me in front of others was the first thing that caused her to lose credibility in my eyes.  She was just a person, not a goddess, not perfect and not even completely right in everything she said to me.  She was certainly wrong when she said people don’t change.
More accurately, I think people’s cores don’t change.  We are who we are.  An introvert may not become an extrovert (though I’ve seen that happen too).  But who knows who we are?  Who knows what may be buried within us waiting to rise to the surface.  The truth is that we often hide our true selves.  We hide our true selves beneath fear, procrastination and even excuses.  But is that who we really, really, really are?  Is the coward really a coward or is there more to him or her?
Perhaps this is not an original thought, but I believe in at least the possibility of something great within each of us.  I believe in the possibility of something great within the people I am called to serve. 
I believe in the possibility of something great within me and within you.
In the last 14 months my life has changed.  I changed it.  I had help.  I had inspiration and reasons.  Ultimately, however, I made the decision to change.  One of the things I could never do in life, for example was be consistent with my habits.  Yet today I am writing my 438th blog.  I still get distracted.  I still fight bad habits.  But I’m still doing my work.  I am changing.
Perhaps it’s the use of the verb that’s the answer here.  Instead of saying people don’t change, I can say, people are changing.  Or I can say, people can change if they want to change. Our personalities are not static, but neither is change.  It is, by definition, dynamic.  Change is an ongoing series of deliberate choices.  It’s even a daily battle, but it’s not one that can’t be won each day.  And on the days this battle is lost, there is always tomorrow.  There’s always the next moment.
Do people change?  I think that’s the wrong question.  The better question is, “Can people change?”
With that I can give a definitive “Yes!”
There’s always another chance to Get Started and to Keep Going and to change.