Changing People is Impossible

We spend so much of our lives trying to change people. Couples struggle to change one another to be the person they want them to be. Political leaders try to change the people of their country. Barack Obama even ran for president on a platform of change, most likely in hopes to change people. But the truth is, changing people is impossible.

Technically, to change something means to alter its current state, and cause it to take on some other state, through the direct impact of an outside factor. Changing ice to water would require the direct impact of the outside factor, heat, for instance. But when it comes to people, it really is impossible to change them. This is because of something commonly called self-identity.

Everyone, in their mind, has a mental picture of themselves. This mental picture defines who we are because it is what we use to guide all of our actions. At a restaurant we choose what we like to eat because that is what our mental picture of ourself wants. If you’ve ever said something along these lines, “I am the kind of person that ________,” then that was something that you have added to your mental picture, or self-identity. 

Since each of our self-identities exist in our minds, and our minds alone, it is therefore impossible for ANYTHING to have a direct impact on it. It is a series of connections across that thing inside our skulls. How could we ever reach into someone’s brain and rewire it or remove something? All Inception references aside, there really is no way.

And yet, people do change. In fact, they are constantly changing for all of their lives. Alcholics recover and live life anew. Stressful people find peace. Good people turn bad. It happens everyday. For the person who seeks to make change, what a conundrum this presents? If you want to change people, you can’t. But you see people changing around you everywhere you look? So let’s break this conundrum, together.

THE TAKEAWAY: We can’t change people, but we can change ourselves. If we want to see those around us change for the better, it is up to us, and us alone, to lead the way. Change our self-identity, and if the change is right for them, they will learn from our example. Only they can make the decision to change. If we build it, they will come.

We can change no one but ourselves.

                                                                  Imagery courtesy of my beautiful and talented girlfriend. 

4 thoughts on “Changing People is Impossible

  1. Well written. It’s actually easier to change yourself than someone else, but that requires that you look in the mirror and see yourself from the outside, which then makes it a bit like changing someone else except you know that “someone else” is actually you. It’s the honest look at yourself in the mirror that’s hard.

    Dave Hadden

    • Dave,

      Thank you! I’m reminded of my favorite Michael Jackson song after reading your words. Man in the Mirror, I believe, was so inspirational to people because it changed their focus from outside, the things they couldn’t control, to inside, where they could. This shift is the only way people can move together.

  2. once again i enjoy reading your perspective on life and the things around you. And i agree that it is so much easier to change yourself than to change others. You have total control of you and zero control of others. So by changing yourself and lighting your own candle on fire then someone else might be attracted to the warmth and light and ask you to light them up too.

    • Alex,

      Thank you for your words of encouragement. You always seem to have an analogy that clarifies even more, my own words. The candle is such a symbol of change and hope that it is only fitting. Your candle is lit, I’m sure of that, and I believe I may have borrowed a bit of your fire to get mine started myself. Thank you for that.

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