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Simon Smithson

On Change

November 8th, 2009
by Simon Smithson

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA-

A friend of mine doesn’t meet new people easily. It’s possible he may be suffering from a touch of Asperger’s (if there is such a thing as a ‘touch’ of Asperger’s). In familiar situations, he likes to dominate - by putdowns, by attack, by withholding attention. But as soon as a random, unknown element - a new person, for example - is introduced, the strength and the bluster vanish from him. He goes strangely quiet; backs down like a loudly-barking Chihuahua suddenly confronted with a pit bull. The more distinct and different a stranger, and their appearance and lifestyle, is from my friend and his, the more difficulty he has meeting their eyes. In the absence of common ground, my friend becomes unsure, and intimidated. He has no way of bridging the gap, and suddenly his confidence in his own position collapses like a house of cards. Those of us who know him well can see the uncertainty and the fear creeping up in him until, finally, when we are alone, he will confide in us ‘I didn’t like that guy.’

Whether my friend has any depth of understanding regarding this behaviour, I don’t know. I don’t believe that it will ever cause him any serious trouble. By now, his life is fairly delineated. Without sudden catastrophe, he will always have the same friends and be surrounded by the same people - if not exactly the same people, then people who are similar enough as to make little difference. He will always live in and experience the same socio-economic streams; work in the same echelons of the same field. The odds are very good that he will marry the girl he is currently with and together, they will grow older, have children, work their way up the corporate ladder, retire, and die. My friend will, most likely, never have to confront the fact that he clams up around strangers; especially when they don’t work white-collar jobs and like the same things that he likes.

This is a part of himself that he, probably, will never have to change. And that’s going to be OK. As dysfunctional behaviour goes, it’s a pretty mild example. There’s no harm in it, except maybe to his chances of having a wider and more variegated circle of friends.

The question for me is, if he wanted to change, and he had the necessary capacity for self-awareness, would he be able to? Can people actually change? This is what’s on my mind at the moment. This is what I’m asking people.

Once, years ago, I was having dinner with my parents and another friend of mine, and the conversation turned to our friend Tom. Tom was in the process of working himself out of an extended, months-long slump during which he’d stopped taking care of himself, lost his job, packed on weight, and stopped leaving the house except for an occasional coffee. There had been no great flash of light, no Road to Damascus for him, but Tom had, piece by piece, quit smoking, stopped drinking so much, found a new job, and was now seeing a new girl.

‘That guy’s really pulled himself together,’ I said. ‘He’s really changed.’

My father snorted.

‘No one ever changes,’ he said. ‘Not unless they’re faced with some total catastrophe.’

And, according to movies, this is how it goes. Even according to stories I’ve heard, this is how it goes. In 2002 there was a university shooting over here. A girl I was seeing at the time knew someone who was present in the classroom with the gunman. He took a bullet in the hand and the resulting change in his personality was, apparently, astonishing.

‘He was so introverted before. Kinda sad all the time,’ the girl said. ‘Now he’ll talk to anyone. He’s so happy, he’s so talkative.’

This was in line with everything that TV had taught me, all right.

Speaking to another friend, earlier tonight, about the concept of change, she told me about how, some years ago, she’d had cancer, and the experience changed her.

‘It changed the way I go through life,’ she said. ‘I used to hate people. OK, I still kinda do. But I value people so much more. I value the interactions and the conversations. And now I live life the way I want to. I have fun and I travel and yeah. I’ve changed.’

Compare and contrast this to the experience of my friend Juliet:

‘I was dating this guy,’ she said. ‘Who was a complete asshole. We were together for a while, and everyone knew - I mean, knew - he was an asshole. He’d always been an asshole. And one day I got a phone call to tell me that he’d fallen while he was rock-climbing. He’d been taken to the hospital and it was possible he was going to be paralysed.’

The asshole, fortunately, was not paralysed. He just had to have some minor surgery.

‘But I knew,’ Juliet said, ‘that it wasn’t going to change him. It wasn’t going to be some life-altering moment. Coming so close to death or quadriplegia… he was still going to be the same asshole.’

She was right, apparently. The guy didn’t change one jot.

So this is what people tell me, over and over again. One constantly-repeating refrain.

I left my ex because he was a son of a bitch, and he was never going to change.

We broke up because I kept giving her chances and finally, I realised that she just couldn’t change.

Some things don’t change. A leopard can’t change its spots. People don’t change.

According to the reading I’m doing at the moment (if you’ve got the time, I highly recommend Reinventing Your Life, by Young and Klosko, two cognitive-approach-based psychologists), people will maintain the same patterns and habits, unconsciously, throughout their entire lives, and find their way towards situations that reinforce those patterns and habits, unless there’s some kind of course correction, because finding the comfort of familiarity is the psychological equivalent of water seeking its own level - even if those patterns and habits are painful or destructive.

There’s a line from an old detective story, The Long Goodbye, I think. Marlowe or Spade or the Continental Op or whoever it is talks about the case of a man who was nearly crushed by a beam falling from a construction yard, who realised in that moment that his life was suffocating him, and so he faked his own death and left town, only to set up a new life that was a carbon-copy of the old one.

‘He’d adjusted to beams falling,’ the detective said. ‘Then he’d adjusted himself to beams not falling.’

The very, very brief straw poll that I’ve taken seems to indicate that most of the people I know don’t have faith in the ability of other people to change. And, I admit, I’ve seen little evidence. The more I see of people from my past, the more I see that they’ve simply become more and more entrenched in themselves; for good or for bad. I see counter-attack and avoidance; I see that people are the same at thirty as they were at twenty, only more so. I see the same things in myself; attitudes and beliefs that have never shifted, repetitive cycles of various sizes and shapes. Whether they take hours, days, or years to cycle through to their reset points, the point remains that they do and then simply start to grind on once more.

And I have to believe that this isn’t the way it has to be, that, with the phenomenal gift of consciousness and the ability to be aware that we as humans have, change is entirely possible (preferably by conscious choice, and not through being shot in the hand). Because believing the alternative would make me miserable.

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129 Comments »

Comment by Zara Potts
2009-11-08 02:01:48

Great piece, Simon. You have some very nice reportage going on here and it’s as thought provoking as it is tender.
I think change is inevitable as we grow older, we all change through experience and age, but I don’t know that people ever change the fundamentals of their personality.
I used to think that people could change, but now I’m not so sure. I think when the crunch comes people revert to type or as you put it in your piece - they simply adjust to the falling beams.
And I guess there’s a reason for those cliches, ‘a leopard doesn’t change its spots,’ and ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,’ they are truisms.
I think people can change if faced with a catastrophic or life-threatening event, but memory is short and all too often we go back to what we know.
Good stuff, Simon. Nicely done…

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 02:08:37

Oh, I think a certain amount of change is inevitable. Like, when you realise you can get drunk legally.

And yes, I think that you get older, you experience more, your lifestyle changes. Certain things become possible or impossible, or anywhere along the spectrum between the two, and so what drives you have may have more or less of a chance for expression, which in itself can provoke further reactions.

And of course, it comes down to the question of what are we talking about as constituting change. Is it learning to put your socks away before going to bed or conquering a lifelong fear of spiders?

I don’t know… I honestly believe that fundamental elements of the personality can be changed. At least, I hope so.

 
Comment by D.R. Haney
2009-11-08 05:44:30

“they simply adjust to the falling beams” — terrific line.

Comment by Matt
2009-11-08 08:16:25

It’s from The Long Goodbye, a conversation between Philip Marlowe and Terry Lennox. Probably my favorite of Chandler’s novels.

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Comment by Zoe Brock
2009-11-08 12:30:27

I just finished it 20 minutes ago.

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 12:32:36

Oh of course you did!

 
 
 
Comment by Zoe Brock
2009-11-08 12:33:06

I know I’m changing and evolving as I get older. Thank god!

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 12:34:25

And apparently you’re getting taller!

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2009-11-08 04:52:38

Hi Simon - great piece and interesting subject. I’ve heard people mull this idea over many times.

I’ve definitely seen in life how people can go through a complete life change and not change at all (my step-sister falling off of a cliff - all of us thinking she’d change and appreciate life more, but staying the same lazy non-appreciative person but now with a limp).
That said, I’ve seen people change and know that people can. It takes work and a willingness to change. Or even just the willingness. I changed after I had kids - I’m much less selfish and open minded. I have way more empathy for people, like children and um, parents. But, people who don’t change or won’t change cling to their sameness out of fear and out of not knowing how to change or even wanting to change. Maybe they can’t handle change for whatever reason. But I don’t think that it takes falling off of a cliff to change - it’s a mindset and I’ve seen it happen in an instant. Though, I suppose falling off of a cliff could change someone who wanted to change, just not my step-sister.

And that said, our son actually has Aspergers and we’ve seen him change tremendously through early intervention over the last year. (Greg may write a piece about this one day). They say the earlier you intervene the bigger the difference. In the last year he’s grown so much with all of these services he gets that he may not even need any by the time he gets to kindergarten. Your friend may or may not have Aspergers, after learning about it, I began to think everyone is my family has it. If your friend were a child now, he might be evaluated as having a social “delay” as they call it. Who knows - but I’m glad he has a lady love and friends, like you, who obviously care about him. Not that this piece is necessarily about him, per se. But, he stayed with me.

I think that you should go on feeling ok that change is possible - because it is - don’t you feel like you learn something new everyday?

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 11:37:33

That’s pretty much my outlook on the matter as well. A friend of mine - a psychologist, don’t you know - texted me after reading this and told me to Google ‘motivational interviewing’ and ’states of change’. I don’t think it takes falling off a cliff (Criminy, I hope not), but I think that would provide some pretty strong motivation that might overcome the fear that people feel when stepping into the unknown.

I feel pretty OK about change being possible Steph. And thanks for the love for my amigo.

 
 
Comment by Greg Olear
2009-11-08 05:20:23

This reminds me of the discussion Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have in “Before Sunset.” He says that there are studies that even in cases of extreme change — winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed — after six months, people tend to revert back to how they were. A grumpy guy who won the lottery becomes a jerk with money; a cheerful guy who is paralyzed becomes a cheerful guy in a wheelchair.

I think people evolve more than they change. They have innate natures, and over time, grow to trust their own selves (or not trust, depending). Astrologically speaking, people hide behind their rising sign and become more like their sun sign as they get older. And there are certainly periods of growth — you’re in the big one right now, as we’ve discussed — in which we are more ready for evolution.

I don’t think I’m much different than I was when I was five. I know more, I’m more worldly and all that, maybe I’m more patient and less angry (Steph might disagree!), but I’m pretty much the same person I’ve always been. People who appear to change always had the overt change in their natures…the perceived “change” is them no longer hiding (ie, the guy who was shot in the hand probably always had it in him to be garrulous; the shot merely awakened his true nature). That’s my two cents.

Interesting piece, as usual.

G

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 11:39:58

The more I hear about this movie, the more I want to see it. It got mentioned a little while back on TNB - was it yourself, Greg?

Evolution v. Change? Interesting idea. How much is self-directed, how much is following a pre-existing encoding?

I agree with the innate nature idea - people just becoming more and more themselves as they grow older. But then… nature vs. nurture…

Comment by Greg Olear
2009-11-08 13:17:10

It’s a terrific movie. It’s pretty much them talking as they tool around Paris — no explosions or whatever — but it’s really great, especially if you’ve seen the first one. Easily one of the best sequels even made. In fact, I like the second one more.

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Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 13:33:17

Wait, wait. No explosions? Not even one?

Well, fuhgeddaboudit.

I’ve not seen the first, either. Oh, my poor to-do list. You really need to go on a diet.

 
Comment by Matt
2009-11-08 14:24:29

That’s a great pair of films (and I’ll be honest, I’ve enjoyed just about all of Linklater’s work that I’ve seen–tho I’ve not seen it all). The three principals–Hawke, Delpy, and Linklater–have actually talked about doing installments where they visit those characters every nine years or so…which would make the next installment due in about 4.

 
Comment by Will Entrekin
2009-11-08 15:22:48

You know, I like being contrarian, so allow me to be the guy to say, in most terms of Ethan Hawke, blech. Linklater, too. I’ve seen both of the Hawke/Delpy flicks, and to me it’s just two people talking endlessly about life but failing utterly to embrace it.

I make a lot of jokes about blowin’ shit up, but really, I do require some sort of explosion, be it physical or emotional. For story to exist, something must happen, and change pretty much must occur.

I remember we mentioned Once at some point, Greg, and I feel like it’s everything neither Before pictures managed to achieve for far less money; a real change, a real story, real moments and lives intersecting. If you want a great, quiet, subtle movie about life and love, I go for Once over the Linklater schlock any day.

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 15:25:10

Damn it! More movies to watch now!

But yes. I like to joke about blowin’ shit up, but I’m always looking for that explosive moment. Although a slow burn is just as good, I guess.

On a different note - if you scroll down the comments, Will, you’ll see that Carrie from WWDS has stopped in.

 
Comment by Matt
2009-11-08 18:46:40

And, in our token bit of SSE at the moment, I have just finished re-watching Once while eating dinner. Great flick as well. Wonderful soundtrack.

 
 
 
 
Comment by D.R. Haney
2009-11-08 05:42:30

Great post, as our friends above have already said.

I was in a terrible state of mind at the time of my accident, and I resolved in the hospital that it was going to change everything. One day some friends took me out of the hospital for an outing at the beach, and as I stood on a corner, a guy on a bicycle pulled up. I had an external fixator on one leg — metal screwed into the bone and arranged around the leg to hold it together — and the guy on the bike said he’d been fitted with one not long before. He pointed to the scars on his leg and talked a little about his accident.

“Did it change your life?” I asked him.

He laughed slightly.

“No,” he said. Then he sailed off on his bike.

And my accident didn’t change my life either. Not really.

Sorry to say so, but it’s the truth.

But it’s still a great post.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 11:41:55

Hey, thanks Duke!

Yeah, I’ve wondered about that. I’ve even tried to encourage that in myself. I’ve thought Yeah, OK. So some guy broke into my car and stole my stereo? Well, I’m gonna use this to help myself change. That’s right suckers! It’s a brand new Simon!

And then gone back to thinking and doing precisely the same thing.

I suspect that if I was ever in a serious accident, I’d be secretly encouraging the same kind of thoughts in myself.

 
 
Comment by kristen elde
2009-11-08 08:08:58

“The phenomenal gift of consciousness”: that’s it right there, I believe. Because I DO think it’s possible for people to change–not our nature or inherently at our core, but in behavior and attitude/outlook and stuff. But until we open our hearts and confront our darkness/shadow aspects with courage and honesty and the will to grow (thanks Jung!), authentic change isn’t possible, I don’t think.

Great post/questions posed–thanks for framing my Sunday, you.

Also, your words bring to mind a new favorite magazine of mine: http://www.thesunmagazine.org. Here’s a taste of its goodness: http://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/406/sy_safranskys_notebook.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 11:43:43

You’re very welcome. I love to frame people’s Sundays.

Yeah, that shadow’ll catch up with you all right, unless you catch up with it first. And yes, I think confrontation (maybe not flaming-torch-and-pitchfork-storming-the-castle confrontation) is a necessary part of it.

And the will, of course, is a very big part.

Checking out the magazine now…

Comment by kristen elde
2009-11-08 17:33:30

Heh, agreed. Flaming torch and pitchfork-storming of the castle=not ideal.

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Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 17:51:04

I’m not sure if Dracula was a Jungian archetype.

 
Comment by kristen
 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 14:14:06

HA!

I applaud both the awesomeness of the fact that there’s a vampire archetype, and also the legwork you did in finding it and bringing it up.

 
 
 
 
Comment by Matt
2009-11-08 08:26:20

Damn, Simon, you’re off your game. I only laughed once at this!

Seriously, though, I think I have to agree with Greg and Steph. Change is a possible thing, but it requires a certain amount of willingness and effort to put into effect. Like your friend, a lot of us tend to get into these delineated patterns, even if they’re not as overtly laid out. The pattern becomes familiar, and familiar thus becomes safe; after a certain amount of time, stepping outside of the pattern just seems downright scary, and the longer we’re in it, the more it reinforces what we already are.

Comment by Greg Olear
2009-11-08 11:03:14

…the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

He’s talking about suicide, but he could be talking about anything. The known is almost always preferable to the known. It’s human nature to resist drastic change. (And I always like this part of the quote, but you only ever hear the beginning).

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 11:46:55

Matt: OK. I’ll try to make more jokes next time. Say, did you hear the one about the priest and the talking cantaloupe?

Apparently even if the pattern is damaging, people prefer the familiar. This is why people keep getting involved with the same kind of partner, have the same troubles at work, go for years with problems that are bringing them low.

Greg: I hadn’t heard that quote before. It’s a good ‘un. I’ve actually been thinking lately of how much I agree with Rumsfeld on the idea of known knowns and unknown unknowns.

Now there’s a change…

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Comment by Laura
2009-11-08 08:42:36

Hi Simon,

Thought provoking piece.

The Dalai Lama once said that “mental transformations take time and are not easy.” Mental transformations, in my opinion, are fundamental changes that can only come from fundamental awareness and intentions. It’s not something that your aspergers esque friend would experience, given the fact that he might not even be aware of his behaviour, as you pointed to in your initial example.

To giv an example from my work: From a recruitment standpoint, as a process changes, so must the process of the job seeker. This past year has changed the way employers and job seekers see the job process altogether. If job seekers fight against it, they will remain unemployed. It has become more of a sales pitch than ever, with higher applicant competition and less jobs available. if one were to use the process of buoyant times, they will not be successful. However - can this be classified as fundamental change? No, but an example that change can be necessary, and taught perhaps?

On a personal note, I respectfully disagree with you, in the sense that people can’t change. If we were to meet for coffee in San Francisco one day, I’m sure you’d think that I have changed dramatically in the past ten or so years. My life changed when I first started travelling. Living in Perth taught me lessons of independence that I would never have learned if I’d stayed in Melbourne. Living in Argentina challenged me to live in a society where I was the minority, and gave me the opportunity to learn and develop new language skills and cross cultural barriers. That experience changed my life goals, and gave me new drive to succeed them.

Practicing yoga has changed me in the sense that I never knew what inner peace was until I started working through the asanas.

Practicing yoga, travelling to Argentina, and leaving Melbourne were all life changing CHOICES that I made. Along with quitting smoking and drinking less tequila.

Part of me agrees that life changing experiences are sometimes required to make way for that change, but who is to say that we can’t go out and look for those experiences? I bet when your friend marries his long term girlfriend, and holds his first born child in his arms, it will change his life forever.

I guess those of us who are capable of change, (ie all of us) just need to find that awareness that we ARE capable, and find the courage to find it.

But, maybe its not change as much as it is the evolution of ones life, ones soul?

In any case. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Thanks for sharing it with us :)

Lauz.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 11:49:48

Lauz! Hola! Como estas?

B… but I was saying that change was possible. So we’re in agreeance!

But you’ve hit the nail on the head. Directed change or unconscious evolution? Which is the more likely? And I think that in order to change, you do need some degree of awareness (otherwise, what would you know to change?).

I’m glad you made those positive changes. We haven’t really talked about them before.

 
 
Comment by Colleen McGrath
2009-11-08 09:39:53

I like your optimism. I’m with Greg on this though, more likely people evolve and learn things but essentially don’t change. I no longer even think of that as a pessimistic view, just truth. Anyway, you’re a sunny guy and your writing reflects all the hope for people you possess. It’s a beautiful thing and accordingly, I hope it doesn’t change.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 11:50:49

Well, it’s true that I was blessed with a sunny disposition…

And I think it’s important that we have some potential for self-directed change. Maybe it’s because I just don’t like the idea of being nothing more than reactive.

 
 
Comment by sheree
2009-11-08 10:39:26

As I read this I could not help but think about young women who have gone against the grain of thousands of years of culture and are murdered by their fathers for their efforts.

I changed once just to see how the other half lived. It wasn’t for me, but I had to know what it was that I had been sacrificed for time and time again.

Great post. Very thought provoking.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 15:38:47

Yeah. That’s something that pulls you up short, that an attempt to change could be punished by death or torture or any one of a hundred heinous acts.

I’m curious about your experience with change was, Sheree. Is this something you’re comfortable going into more detail about?

And thanks. Nice to know I catalysed something.

Comment by sheree
2009-11-08 20:19:22

To answer your question. I had an affair in my 30’s. My father did it. My mother did it and my exhusband did it a few times while we were married. So one day before my decision to get a divorce from my exhusband, a person came into my life who had a very short time to explore the sexual side of himself. I decided to accomodate him before his illness took control over what was left of his life. I had the affair and felt horrible for going against my nature of being a monogamous person.

I am now married to a like minded person and have returned to what I consider to be a normal life for myself. Ten years and not once have I felt out of sorts with myself for returning to a life that I feel normal in living. I have nothing against others who live their lives differently than I live my own it’s just now I know that I am happiest being true to who I am as an individual.

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Comment by sheree
2009-11-08 21:03:46

I just wanted to add: Oddly enough it was during my affair that I realized that I was a monogamous person. Before the affair I just thought that I was a prude. Everyone was having sex with everyone that they felt the urge too.

I never got that urge. I never wanted to run the streets and party like many others that I had known in my life. I always wanted to be a wife and a mother and caregiver to the sick and elderly.

On the day I decided to have the affair something in me just had to know if I was just a prude who was over reacting to the immediate world around me. I never felt bad that I consented to the affair and I never felt that i did it out of revenge. I do not have a vengeful nature. I did it out of total curiosity.

I later realized after all was said and done that I was just a monogamous person. That’s what does it for me. Turns me on and drives me to orgasm. Knowing that I will be with one man for the rest of my life who willing wants to spend the rest of his life fucking me senseless until we’re too old to fuck any more. Probably too much information but you did ask.

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 21:40:36

Thanks for sharing that, Sheree. I appreciate it.

And it’s nice to know that you’ve found confirmation of the lifestyle and life that is ‘you’.

There’s a psychological saying: avoidance maintains anxiety. I think you need to experience things in order to know if they’re for you or not (even as I write that, my brain is saying ‘Duh.’)

I think about the process of negative construction sometimes - that you need to experience what isn’t in order to know what is. Sometimes you need to stand in the shadow of something before you can see the outlines of it.

 
Comment by sheree
2009-11-08 22:20:37

That’s a damn fair analogy and a right fine synopsis Mr Smithson.

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 23:37:43

Thanks. I’ve got great writers.

 
 
 
 
2009-11-08 10:50:26

I just need to add, as this subject has now been in my mind all day…plus I feel quite vulnerable for what I shared….

Are we talking change, as in someone who’s ways, life and whatnot sucks
and needs changing? Or are we talking evolving and maturation. Or both. Noone’s going to tell me that people can’t evolve or mature or even change. People also change for the worse too. Change is happening all the time all around us. One thing we can count on is change, as the old saying goes. But my point before is that just because it’s this grandiose thing like an accident or lottery win, that may not change someone’s core within. But if someone wants to change something they want to work on - like overcoming a fear or trauma or addiction - it’s a mindset and they can do it. If they want to. It can be easy or terribly hard/close to impossble, but it can happen. Of couse it can. Just as someone can choose not to change. Or not be able to for whatever limitation. But I’ve seen people change and grow and evolve, just as I’ve seen people stagnate and de-volve. And some people stay the same.

Comment by Greg Olear
2009-11-08 11:05:23

Then it becomes a matter of how you define “change.”

My head hurts now.

Steph, we need to watch something brainless tonight….

2009-11-08 11:09:26

Dodgeball?
5 is the new 6.

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Comment by Zara Potts
2009-11-08 11:21:49

An episode of ‘Overthinkers Say The Darndest Things’ maybe?
By the way - I think you and Greg are wonderful. I love your comments, brave and honest and beautiful. x

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 11:53:29

Zigackly - way to cut right to the core of the issue, Steph!

Absolutely, people evolve and mature. Which is a natural process, I think - as are the times when they go the other way. And it’s my bad for not being more clear about what I mean.

I guess what I was trying to get at with the concept of ‘change’ was the idea that people can alter, fundamentally, who they are and the way they act. And certainly my experience of that - what I’ve been taught to believe - is that it takes some grandiose thing. And I want to think that no, people can ‘change’ given enough effort and time.

 
2009-11-08 18:58:08

thanks guys. xxoo
Maybe I’ll give you each your own episode on
“Overthinkers Think The Darndest Things”.

 
 
 
 
2009-11-08 12:16:09

I loved that this wasn’t funny. Very nice to see this side of you, Simon.

As one who is working with professionals on some serious “course correction” (love that!) of my own, I can say this: change *is* possible if you want it.

But it is grueling and painful work.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 12:30:25

Yeah, I felt it was about time. Nice to know it went down OK!

(thanks Kim)

Hey, like Aristotle said, the hardest path usually yields the greatest rewards. If he didn’t say that, then, he probably should have.

 
 
Comment by Zoe Brock
2009-11-08 12:32:04

most people I know who have changed have changed for the worse.

people are telling me that my scary ex boyfriend who I have a restraining order against has completely changed. I don’t believe it. The restraining order can stay!!!

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 12:33:55

Yeah, that’s the flip side to the equation… and when asking people about their ideas on change, a certain number have used the c-word to describe their exes (and I don’t mean c-hange) and said ‘They’ll never change.’

Which is sad, but I think you have to recognise that.

 
 
Comment by Will Entrekin
2009-11-08 13:39:23

During my first semester at college, I was lucky to accidentally enroll in the only course our college president ever taught, which concerned the moral ethics of Plato and Aristotle; our president was Jim Loughran, S.J., a jovial Jesuit priest with a Scotch demeanor and a bad combover. Loughran always used to refer to the French saying about change, which is that the more we change, the more we stay the same.

As I get older, into my thirties now, I appreciate that more. I tend to feel like, as much as I change in years (and I have, during some years in leaps and bounds and during others by tiny increments), I tend to become, more essentially, me. I don’t yet know what that means (I tend to believe life is figuring that out, truthfully), but I know I become more comfortable. The best way I know to put it is that I find myself feeling galvanized in the world.

Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams had wonderful ways of summarizing the human psyche, that the mind is extraordinary in its ability to adapt quite suddenly and spontaneously to irregular stimulus and file it away. I think that’s the thing about change; unless it occurs extraordinarily, with real commitment, so often we tend to simply assimilate it. We tell ourselves stories to make sense of it, introduce it into our lives so that its longterm consequences are, paradoxically, as inconsequential as possible.

I think you’re right that story is in The Long Goodbye. Chandler was a genius. So was Auster, who relayed the story in his The Blue Notebook, which I didn’t manage to finish, because when he writes himself into corners, Auster does not, unfortunately, introduce a character with a gun. Still, you might find The Blue Notebook worthy of some rumination.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 13:47:27

Ah yes, Will, but I believe it was Spinal Tap who pointed out ‘The less it stays the same, the more it changes.’

Glavanized is a good way to feel, I think - there’s a line in The Weather Man where Nic Cage’s doleful hero talks about how over the years, the possible versions of him that he dreamed of being have fallen away and crumbled, leaving only the him that remains. And it would seem his dreary lifelessness as a result of that is the opposite side of the coin to the one you’re describing.

Yep - assimilation is the word that’s key here. Too often one change is overwhelmed by the weight of the pre-existing lifestyle and doesn’t get a chance to flower.

I have so much to read and to watch as a result of this post.

 
Comment by Greg Olear
2009-11-08 15:04:00

Jesuits rock.

And great point, Will, about the adaptive abilities of us humans.

Chandler is one of the those writers, too, where everything is good. Even the less-heralded novels are still top drawer.

Comment by Zara Potts
2009-11-08 15:28:06

SSE.. I just wrote something about Jesuits on Duke’s piece. Weird. I don’t think I’ve ever thought abut them before..

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Comment by Simone
2009-11-08 22:48:23

There’s some definite SSE going around. Saturday night we had a band play at the restaurant and one of the guitarists suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. His first name is Russell, which is my surname. Then last night, while on my date we discussed “Before Sunset” which was mentioned above by Greg.

Getting a tad wierded out by this. *shivers*

Great post Simon. Definitely something to think about.

I think it was John Kenneth Galbraith who said “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 23:38:37

Gad, that’s eerie.

Nice to know the SSE’s still kicking. I haven’t seen a lot of it recently.

Thanks, Simone! John Kenneth Galbraith, you say?

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 23:41:53

Ha! Apparently he’s the guy that coined the phrase ‘the shit hit the fan’.

 
Comment by Simone
2009-11-09 00:27:13

Love that phrase!! Now i’ve learnt something.

My mother used to say “Shit on Toast!” when ever something went wrong and she couldn’t or didn’t want to use the “F” word.

 
 
 
 
Comment by Ryan Day
2009-11-08 15:00:33

I guess one way to look at it would be that you share every experience you have with yourself, and so you’ll more or less always be identical to you… With that basis of comparison it’s hard to figure out exactly what change means, but you can certainly alter your course, and through time an altered course leads to a different experience set and a different experience set a different person, of course you’ll never know if that is different, because yet again, there is no grounds for comparison…

To sum up: less internet pornography and cigarettes, more wine and bicycling… Oh yes, we can change.

Also, see autobiography of Tony Little

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 15:21:14

Wow, I didn’t see that coming, Ryan. Nice one. If I was going to be all mathematical about it, I guess I could say:

experience:experiencer::experience:experiencer.

Yeah, that’s right. Ratio notation.

I’ve now Wikipediad Tony Little.

He seems like an energetic dude.

 
 
Comment by Carrie
2009-11-08 15:08:05

Sobering as well as thought-provoking. I don’t have any reading material to add to your piece, but I’ll just say one thing: very, very enlightening.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 15:21:56

Ha. Sober was how I was describing this in comparison to some of my other work, Caz.

Thanks. Your opinion is always valuable to me.

 
 
Comment by Ronlyn Domingue
2009-11-08 15:24:50

I haven’t read the Young and Klosko book, but I’ve read plenty of others that touch on the same subject matter–the past repeats itself regardless of the suffering it causes. The suffering is at least FAMILIAR, whereas change is the great unknown, a source of terror, anxiety, fear.

Yes, people can change. It’s rare, difficult, and painful. Often, the change requires a dark night of the soul, illness, or death to serve as the wake-up call. I’ve seen it among people I know. What I’ve noticed, however, is that those who do change emerge with their BEST qualities strengthened and shining. Maybe, though, as Greg Olear mentioned way up in the comments, it’s a matter of evolution rather than change. (I’m okay with either.)

Thanks for the thoughtful piece, Simon.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 15:43:41

It’s an enlightening book. I don’t think you should get too dogmatic about any one text, but it’s certainly one that has struck a chord with me.

And that’s exactly it. To use an example - the person who finds themselves playing out the victim role consistently. No one really wants to be a victim (not consciously, anyway), and yet it’s something that some people will consistently create for themselves, or be drawn to. It’s unpleasant… but familiar.

Aha! Wake-up call! The phrase I should have used but didn’t.

Something that’s always been intriguing to me is the idea of evolution through adversity. I think it’s something worth exploring; the strength that is forced to develop as a result of trauma (or not) and what side-effects might develop as a result.

That being said, I’m wondering if it always has to be trial by fire. I want trial by, I don’t know, bunnies or something.

You’re welcome, Ronyln. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

Comment by Ronlyn Domingue
2009-11-09 09:42:25

Curious book you might find interesting: The Presence Process by Michael Brown. He borrowed the idea that one’s life experiences repeat in seven-year cycles, all of it grounded in childhood. To be clear, the emotional patterns recur, not the concrete events. So if someone breaks the patterns, his/her life can change. (I found this book on the long strange trip which is writing Novel #2.)

Trial by bunnies, kittens, ladybugs, feathers…amen.

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Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 10:27:46

Interesting. I’ve actually been talking to people about the process/potential of breaking patterns at the moment. I’ll have to check out the book - look what I’ve done to my poor bank account with this post!

 
 
 
 
Comment by Ducky
2009-11-08 17:07:00

‘No one ever changes,’ he said. ‘Not unless they’re faced with some total catastrophe.’

Thank goodness we can always count on catastrophes.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 17:11:31

Yeah, they appear to be pretty commonplace, actually…

 
 
Comment by David S. Wills
2009-11-08 17:27:09

That’s weird that you mentioned Marlowe, Spade and the Continental Op… I was just thinking about them all yesterday as I stumbled upon a stash of Chandler books.

Oh yeah, and great post… I’m not sure what makes people change. I always feel like I’m evolving and becoming different, but then a year passes and I’m the same. The same with the people around me. From week to week it seems they change, but in the end they’re the same. More or less.

I always thought if I became a father or killed someone or something big like that, that I’d change. But I wonder if you do, or if dealing with big things just means you become, I don’t know, a more pronounced version of your original self…?

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 17:54:09

And here was I thinking that the SSE seems to have calmed down a bit…

Thanks, Divad. It’s odd that this post seems to be getting more positive response than anything else I’ve posted - it appears to have struck a chord with people. I’ve certainly never received a text message about a piece I’ve posted before.

Interesting. Are they just temporarily reacting to new situations and then settling back into their old grooves?

And again, we come back to the idea of the big thing. The idea that’s in my head is that you need to have an experience like a tidal wave, that crashes through the reefs of personality that have been built up over the years, changing you completely.

It’s an idea I’ve been brainwashed into by TV, I think.

Comment by David S. Wills
2009-11-08 20:47:14

Well, it’s a nice and tightly written piece, deserving of praise. I mean, maybe not as much as a text message… Geez, that’s the stuff even bestsellers dream about…

And I have no real idea about what makes people change, other than my half-baked guesses, formulated whilst at work, on too little sleeping and no fucking coffee… Oh TNB, if it weren’t for you I’d literally have a nervous breakdown.

Oh yeah, and guess where I’m moving next September… Go on, guess… That’s right: Australia.

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Comment by Zara Potts
2009-11-08 21:39:37

Oh that’s exciting.. as Simon says - we’ll have another member of T-Pac!

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 21:42:12

That’s right. Fuck you, Dan Brown! I get text messages!

Teasing out ideas is a great way to spend the work day.

No way! Whereabouts? We have to talk about this.

 
Comment by David S. Wills
2009-11-09 04:12:19

I’m not sure. It’s just going into the planning phase. But my mind is made up!

 
 
 
 
Comment by Richard Cox
2009-11-08 20:46:34

Great questions, Simon. I’m of the opinion that people can change. The reason I think so is because I am one of those people. Anyone who knew me before, say, 1999, would hardly recognize me now. Not just because I’ve changed my physical appearance, but because I also willed myself to stop being so introverted and shy and learn to interact with other human beings…both those I knew and strangers, too.

Can everyone change? I don’t think so. But some people can. I don’t know if there’s a way to guess in advance who will manage it. And I don’t think people who do change are necessarily any better off than those who remain the same.

But it’s possible. I can say that with confidence.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-08 22:02:21

Thanks Richard.

I’d like to think that everyone has the potential to change. But I think there are people who won’t have the necessary tools available to them; whether that’s time, drive, motivation, a supportive environment…

I’m glad to hear we’ve got a real-life case study right here. Thanks for sharing!

Comment by Richard Cox
2009-11-09 06:37:12

I was kind of drunk when I wrote that. Reading it again it sounds kind of self-important. Has someone built a USB breathalyzer kit yet?

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Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 10:28:35

I didn’t read it that way, but hey. I’m going to trust you. If you say it sounds kind of self-important, then I hate it.

USB breathalyser? Now that’s not a bad idea at all…

 
 
 
 
Comment by Becky
2009-11-09 02:52:29

I always have trouble with this question.

I’m never quite sure what people mean by “change.”

Most of the time, it seems to me that they’re talking about an individual creating or dispelling outward behaviors that cause other individuals to think “this individual is X way.” It’s a plea on the part of observers for their own comfort, not necessarily for the well being of the individual in question.

So, for example, if an individual has a terrible temper and simply learns to control its expression or hide that its there, does that count? If we smile at people we loathe or disdain, are we no longer judgmental? Or are we simply adding “false” on to “judgmental” in the pile of flaws? Does sufficient/substantial change require that the individual ceases to have a particular quality, inwardly and outwardly, entirely?

At some point, of course, people cross some kind of line into certifiable territory–mental illness, and we do not expect them to change without help or intervention. We recognize that their behaviors stem from something chemical, something psychological, something in their brains that controls their very perceptions to such an extent that asking them to change is utterly unreasonable because they lack, at some level, the “proper” perceptual vantage to be critical or analytical with regard to their own behaviors.

I am not entirely convinced that personalities are very different. After all, (not counting drug/alcohol abuse and recovery) MOST instances of 180 degree turn-arounds in personality that appear to occur on the genuinely internal level do involve some sort of head trauma or brain damage.

So my answer is, I don’t know. Or “It depends.” I think people can change the way they act, and I think people can change the way they express or process certain things cognitively, but at some point, the deeper you go, you may find yourself hoping for change on some kind of fundamental level, and if that’s what you’re looking for, my personal feeling is that it is a waste of time and energy; the change that’s in order may be to the observer’s understanding or conclusions of that individual’s behaviors. If that is not possible, then perhaps there is simply a decision to be made between acceptance and discontinuing the association.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 13:39:32

Yeah, the devil is in the details on this one.

(as a side note, I’ve just realised how often I start replies with the word ‘Yeah’).

One of the key things discussed in Reinventing Your Life is the notion of different coping strategies. The bully, for example, who is secretly insecure and massively overcompensating - at heart, they’re still insecure, but may not appear that way to others. Behavioural changes can be important and positive, but to me, the notion of change is really all about discovering root causes.

Unfortunately, there’s no metric we can use on this to say ‘Hey look! Billy’s changed 62%!’

In terms of certifiable illnesses - yep, all too true. Without wishing to pathologise the populace, it seems that too many people in the wider community lack insight into their own behaviour, how it could be changed for the positive, and how to go about effecting that change.

Someone else has said the same - that they’ve only seen what can be called true and lasting change as a result of physical trauma to the brain.

That being said, I think there are definite avenues available to change one’s own self-image and understand of self, and that there will be flow-on effects from such a change. Even a sudden change in paradigms of belief (whatever those beliefs might be) could provoke such a change.

I think the answer comes down to ‘it depends’ too.

 
 
Comment by Robin Antalek
2009-11-09 04:34:02

In the end, Simon, I always go back to something simple that my dad said to me when I was in the midst of one of my grade A freak-outs …. you just have to have faith. And he didn’t mean that it had to be God based faith - he just meant faith in general that things will all work out they way they are supposed to.. and in the end .. isn’t that all we can hope for? Whether a human has the capacity to change - well - that would imply that change is the ultimate goal. Sometimes, maybe it isn’t. Sometimes, maybe we just have to accept what we see in front of us.

This is beautiful, thoughtful piece….

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 13:42:00

Couldn’t agree more - change for change’s sake may be nice in the short-term, but I think it should be a means, rather than an end.

And I think having faith (in general) is a key component to effecting change. I should make a recipe for this:

Take equal parts faith, motivation, opportunity, awareness, environment and sustained effort. Mix in a bowl and place over a medium heat…

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 13:42:47

Oh, and thank you!

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Comment by Amanda
2009-11-09 05:33:59

After losing touch with a good friend during my twenties (geography, general changes in circumstance, and no such thing as email or cellphones yet, at least not within our circle) we stumbled upon each other in our early thirties and remain great friends now. During our “reunion” conversation while we manically recounted the major events and the minutiae of the ten years we’d been apart, I happened to remark that I’d changed a lot since we’d last been in touch.

“No you haven’t,” my friend assured me, “you’ve always been exactly the same!” He meant this in a good way, but all I could think of was the self-absorbed, arrogant, too-chatty, weirdo nineteen year old I had been, and shuddered in horror that I was still her at 33.

No, no, no, my friend said and went on to qualify his statement about me staying the same. He felt like the weirdo, less than ideal attributes I had picked out about the 19-yr-old me and the more settled, responsible, generous and pragmatic aspects of the thirtysomething me were somewhat superficial traits. Meanwhile, the core “me” remained unchanged (and indeed remains unchanged in most people). What shifts is how we navigate the world and our private lives, what parts of ourselves we showcase or hide, the things we focus on or place on a back-burner awhile. Bits of our essential character take turns, but change…it never truly is “change”.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 13:49:05

Ah, and now to get into a discussion about the nature of persona and its construction…

Sweet.

It’s times like this I wish I’d studied psychology. Lenore? Lenore! I need to borrow your brain for a little while.

I’ve heard it said (never by any Japanese people, mind you, but in books and movies and TV shows where some invariably white guy says ‘You know, in Japan, they say…) that in Japan a man is considered to be a different person in different rooms of the house. I first encountered this in the Michael Crichton book Rising Sun.

In the book, the main character (Wesley Snipes) gets all upset by this concept, and says that it’s fuckin’ immoral, or some such effect. Sean Connery’s character then asks if he’d use that language in front of his grandmother. Snipes says no and Connery says ‘So you change according to context, too.

And that’s the question - the way we carry ourselves and relate to the world changes, obviously, and hopefully in a way that can be classed as evolution. We get better at it, and eventually we get to a point where our ‘core’ persona and the way we move through the world are pretty well aligned. Hopefully.

This is my curiosity - can our core beliefs about ourselves be altered? Or are they irrevocable?

Comment by Amanda
2009-11-10 05:08:17

Evolving, growing up, distilling, maturing…all variations on that theme, I’d say.

I think there is a difference between a person’s “core” and a person’s “core beliefs about him- or herself”. I think perhaps the core itself is less changeable than the beliefs are.

I think I can change how I think about myself and about the world through which I travel, but probably I can’t change *who* I am, at least not without a major catalyst (the earth-shattering event or major tragedy mentioned in your original post).

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Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-10 11:09:50

This is what people seem to be coming back to me with when I ask them - the idea of a changeable outer self, and a remarkably-difficult-to-change inner self.

But I like that you’ve distinguished between a core self and a set of core beliefs. I think that’s an important distinction.

 
 
 
 
Comment by jonathan evison
2009-11-09 06:55:16

. . . i feel like people are basically the sum of their habits . . .change those, and you’re liable to change in some substantive way . . . change is a big theme for me in fiction . . . the only characters i care about are the ones trying to change . . . they may be failing, but they’re trying . . .

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 13:49:37

Reverse engineering the personality?

Right on!

 
 
Comment by jmblaine
2009-11-09 10:07:24

As I read the comment thread
I kept trying to think of something
profound to add
but came up blank.

I went to grad school for Psychology
and took lots of Philosophy
but it was a small Southern school
and most of our exegesis
was from Merle Haggard songs.

Some folks change
others stay the same
In some ways I’ve changed
Other ways I am far too much the same.

I know enough to know
that I don’t know

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 13:50:49

11,
You’ll always be
The Dean of both Pyschosophy
And Philology
(Merle Haggard will be your TA)

Equipped with that knowledge
You’re a wise man
Indeed.

 
 
Comment by Erika Rae
2009-11-09 11:23:28

I believe change - if it is indeed possible at all - is hard earned.

And different types of changes are easier than others:

Changes to our reactions
Changes to our world view (yes, I think this is easier won than other types)
Changes to our work habits

Often education, exposure, and the occasional Oprah episode can help these.

Others are harder:
Changes to personality
Changes to our self-perception

I don’t know, Simon. Can’t say I’ve ever witnessed changes to the latter set.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 14:05:41

That’s certainly the idea that’s coming through. The difficult nature of it, that is. And really, why would it be anything else? By process of erosion and construction, everyone’s individual mental landscape has had years to form.

Someone I know spoke to me about this; about how she doesn’t think she’s changed but the space between thought and reaction has become one of more conscious decision-making. Which is good, I think, for anyone.

I don’t know either. Interesting reading on the topic comes from a guy named Dr. Maxwell Maltz (apparently he’s the father of self-help). He was a plastic surgeon, and he got interested by the idea that some people would have corrective surgery and suddenly develop this entirely confident view of themselves, whereas others would have their self-image so deeply ingrained that even when their nose, which had previously been a source of self-reprimanding, had been surgically changed, their beliefs about themselves didn’t shift a bit.

I can’t speak for the practical uses, but as a point of research, his book Psycho-Cybernetics is good stuff.

 
 
Comment by Phat B
2009-11-09 12:16:01

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. You can, however, complain about the same old tricks as soon as the dog leaves to poop on the lawn.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 14:06:00

I can’t teach my lawn to poop on the dog?

Comment by Phat B
2009-11-09 15:19:20

Exactly. Now you’ve got it.

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Comment by Becky
2009-11-09 12:22:36

There are some interesting discussions to be had about notions of unlimited human perfectability and/or malleability (”change”). One notion (generally grounded a Kantian, enlightenment sort of ideation) holds on to it as crucial to improvement and “progress” and a generally constant march forward into increased happiness/betterment for humanity.

The other, whose origins are not as obvious to me, holds that ideation centered on human (individual or otherwise) infinite malleability and perfectability are concocted with an eye towards social engineering and the justification of punishment for those who refuse to conform or change themselves as they told.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 14:18:15

Agreed.

I can’t remember where I heard it, but I remember hearing a saying once about how the goal of being a parent was to raise a child who was a better person than you (who would then go on to do the same, and so on and so on). I liked the idea of a constantly-improving humanity.

But I digress.

It’s a tricky discussion. After all, we’re talking about the process and possibility of change, without really getting into the question of whether that change (if possible) is necessary or desirable. If it’s simply for conformity, well, that’s not necessarily a worthwhile endeavour.

That being said, going by the law of averages alone, I think everyone probably has some part of themselves that could be changed for the better. Not has to be, but could be. That’s on an individual, rather than a social level, but maybe the same holds true.

Comment by Becky
2009-11-09 15:49:03

The problem, of course, lies in who makes the decision about what constitutes “better.”

And of course, “simply for conformity” isn’t a reason, and most people would NOT buy “so we can all be the same” as a justification, but I think in the situation imagined by those second theorists, whatever a person is being encouraged/coerced to conform to would also have been declared “better” or to be some form of “progress.” That may or may not be true but would nevertheless likely justify the coercion in many people’s minds.

It’s a crazy-making discussion for sure. One with not-so-subtle cultural and political implications. That makes it fascinating. And kind of scary.

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Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 16:00:04

There’s the rub. Given the entirely subjective nature of the term ‘better’, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that I am the one who decides what constitutes ‘better’.

Ooh, are we getting into some utilitarianism here?

And if it’s a coerced change (an encouraged change is a different kettle of fish, or maybe, the opposite side of the same coin would be a better way to put it), is that really a change or simply a behavioural modification?

I have a feeling I’m going to drive myself nuts with this stuff. I’m going to to need a dozen pencils, a couple reams of blank paper, and someone to gasp in shock when they walk in on me, surrounded by feverish scribblings.

 
Comment by Becky
2009-11-09 16:25:30

And jars of your own urine.

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 16:39:42

Awesome. Megan can blog about it.

I’m becoming more and more curious about this change business. I mean, there are things that I want to change about myself, but from a scientific, observational standpoint, I’m becoming fascinated by the concept, and wondering if I’m going to end up as my own guinea pig.

 
Comment by Becky
2009-11-10 02:19:43

I think you may have trouble passing that off within the scientific community.

You may be a biased participant, and though you may be random, I suspect it’s not in the way they usually prefer.

However, there is plenty of literature on personality psychology. “Personality” being loosely defined by eggheady scientist types as those qualities that remain basically static throughout a person’s life and are, under normal circumstances, more or less immune to change.

Another avenue to explore is evolutionary psychology. That’s what piqued my interest in the topic at the broad, sort of philosophical/sociological level. In particular, Steve Pinker’s _The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature_. It is written for lay people and Pinker is quite an impressive writer in that respect. Entertaining, accessible, and informative, which is nothing short of a miracle for a Harvard/MIT cognitive neuroscientist. That said, he certainly has an opinion on the issue, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-10 11:07:32

What if I promise to drink enough vodka to beocome double blind?

OK. Steve Pinker. Blank Slate. Check.

Damn it, I have so much reading to do.

I actually know very little about evolutionary psychology. I mean, that’s not to say I have a particularly good handle on other schools, but ev psych is one in which my ignorance is significantly deep.

 
Comment by Becky
2009-11-10 12:02:21

It’s one of those where a lot of controversial areas of psychology (and just areas of psychology in general), philosophy, and a host of sciences, both soft and hard, tend to come together, making it particularly exciting, confusing, and eliciting of heated ideological (and sometimes intensely personal, I’ve discovered) debates.

That is 100% good times for me, so I’m hooked.

The good news is that because of the interdisciplinary nature of it, it’s not difficult to find literature written for people who don’t know that much about evopsych proper. I mean, evopsych isn’t even composed of evopsychologists. It’s mostly psychologists, anthropologists, soiciologists, linguists, etc.

So all these people are interacting on an academic level who don’t necessarily understand the specialized jargon of each other’s particular discipline.

Anyway. I should quit before I am certified geek.

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-10 13:13:40

Oh cool! Multidisciplinary is the best kind of disciplinary. Synergy and cohesion, yeah?

And that whole thing about the five blind guys and the elephant.

Damn it! Now I’ve got something else to find out more about. Looks like I’ll be hitting the certified geek circus soon too.

(and not to bite the heads off chickens)

 
 
 
 
Comment by tip robin
2009-11-09 17:19:36

Excellent rumination on change.

I myself am trying to effect change, it was part of the reason I moved back to the states. So far I have made some progress, though I haven’t had to shoot myself in the hand so far or walk dangerously close to the road in order to almost get hit by a bus but avoid it and then change.

If we’re speaking about the lot of humanity, then I don’t think we can accurately quantify or qualify it. Simply too many people, too many unrecorded cases. Not enough definition, etc.

Another point: people who say that people simply don’t change, do they themselves incline toward change? Aren’t these people much of the time saying that someone should be more like them? Is that okay?

I do think that the very essence of life is change, even on and especially at a molecular level: we age. To not acknowledge this is to live according to one specific set of paradigms that were established at one stage (age) of your life. And when change occurs, which it always does, the best way to adapt to it is to be pliable, open. Let go of the things you cling to so desperately and you will be free and taken care of at the same time. To not be so is to miss or lose out on many opportunities life offers.

So yeah, I’m very much a Buddhist in terms of these things. I also would like to formally admit that I really know nothing that hasn’t been known before.

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-09 18:45:27

Muchos gracias.

Yep, quantification and qualification will always be elusive, I think.

What people seem to be saying (for the most part) is that behavioural change is possible; persona change is not. Which is something to explore, I think.

You sure are very much a Buddhist in terms of these things. And I like your formal admission. I would have accepted an informal admission as well.

Comment by Jude
2009-11-09 20:40:32

Hi Simon
Have been wanting to make a comment on your wonderful post… and today the SSE has appeared on my Facebook page in the form of a quote…
“Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine” ~Robert C. Gallagher

But to add my two cents worth - in response to your above comment…
I’m sure Zara may have mentioned that one of my interests is numerology.

There are a two major components to a numerology chart; the first being your birthday which can never be changed, therefore it’s often referred to as the Life Path, the Destiny or as I like to call it the Soul’s Journey.

The other major number is the total of your birth name (on your birth certificate) and this can be changed (by deed poll or marriage for example). However even if the name is changed, the initial meaning of your name can never be changed and you will always be influenced by this. I liken it to the body you were born with - yes, the body changes over the lifetime but the actual structure (ie. the genetic structure; the blood type etc.) remains the same.

So even though the body structure stays the same, you can change the body’s appearance by wearing different clothes; by eating a different diet or even the way it looks by exercising or playing sports etc. Therefore we can assume many different personas over our lifetime and that in itself suggests we are always in a state of change. (In fact every time we change our clothes…!)

Life would be a sad thing if we submitted to the belief that there is no change - we are always changing and evolving, some at a fair pace; some at a much slower pace.

Looking forward to meeting you soon…

Comment by D.R. Haney
2009-11-10 00:24:51

He’ll charm the sunglasses off you, Jude. He is my little brother, you know, or so he became a few days ago. It’s always nice to acquire a new brother. It’s something of a lifelong habit.

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Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-10 01:11:38

Jude: Thanks! I’m glad you decided to stop in and join the party. The SSE is apparently now sending out exploratory expeditions, as I’m hearing back about it from a bunch of people.

Hmmm. An evolving structure from an initial base? Interesting…

Do you know the Buddhist idea (at least, I was taught it in a Philosophy of Buddhism class) about the sailboat that changes one piece at a time?

And I’m looking forward to it too.

Duke: After reading your comment I scrolled back up to see if Jude was wearing sunglasses…

 
Comment by Jude
2009-11-10 01:13:53

Might need the sunglasses to stop the dazzle Duke.

I see there’s an adoption process happening. Choosing your family makes a lot of sense to me…

I look forward to meeting your little bro’ and hope I will also meet his big bro’ soon…

 
Comment by Jude
2009-11-10 01:16:59

Oh Simon - you’re there! Beat me to the comment I was going to nest in under Duke’s.

No - don’t know the story about the sailboat - pray tell…

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-10 11:05:09

The sailboat idea is basically an idea that a sailboat goes on a journey and at some point has its sails replaced. Then its mast, then its hull, then whatever else makes up a sailboat (it’s not really that nautically-correct an analogy). So at some stage on the journey, no part of the sailboat is the same as when it started out… and yet it’s still the same sailboat.

 
 
 
 
Comment by Mary
2009-11-11 12:01:46

Sorry that I’m so late to join the conversation on this, but HEY you are raising some great questions.

When we think of people changing, we think of them improving themselves — quitting drinking, getting healthy, abandoning abusive behaviors, breaking addictions … but what about changing for the worse? Here’s a short story:

I was a pretty cool kid once upon a time. Just a normal kid, but you know… cool the way that all kids are pretty cool. Then I went through some bullshit, a damaging relationship, some depression to go along with it, mostly as a result of my bad decisions, but whatever. When I got out of the relationship, I said to a friend, “I used to be the most fun, happy, creative, smart, amazing person … I wish you could’ve known me when I was like that.” (Perhaps I romanticized my former self. Forgive me that.) At the time, I thought I needed to do some serious work to get back to being myself, or the version of myself that I preferred. That was years ago, and life is pretty sweet for me right now, and what I’m wondering is this: Did I ever change? Am I the same person I always was? I’m better off now than I was years ago, but … what does that prove?

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-11 13:52:04

Hey thanks Mary!

It’s strange - I’ve never really had the same response to a post as I’ve had from this one. I’m getting text messages and emails and all kindsa stuff. Now I need to take a couple of days off to sit and think about all the information that has come back to me.

(A couple of days off… now THERE’s a change I can believe in!)

Booya. Way to bring up the factor that a lot of people have been avoiding (not Zoe, of course, if you read her comments). The idea of change for the worse is one that people seem to have a lot of faith in - almost as if change for the worse is unconscious and change for the better has to involve a whole bunch of effort. Which is really sad, when you think about it.

You can romanticise your former self as much as you please.

Hmmm. Did you ever change? If you were two different people, which one was the real Mary? Or were they both facets of the same rich(ert) tapestry?

Comment by Becky
2009-11-11 15:57:50

None of this really involves me, but I very much enjoy sharing my opinions. My general feeling, when it comes to questions of self or personality–both in myself and others–is that there’s some serious dualism going on.

Yin and Yang, dark and light, etc. And of course, like the Tao, “dark” and “light” don’t necessarily mean “bad” and “good.”

Most people, I think, have a sort of basic personality made up of various fundamental characteristics. These fundamentals can manifest in all kinds of different ways, some of them perceived as positive, others negative, etc. But the same trait is responsible for both. You’re a passionate person, maybe–as such, you are both extremely dedicated to people and things you care about and, on the other side, perhaps a bit quick to anger. Or rage. Or cussing. (I have no idea who might be like that. No clue. Strictly hypothetical. Quit looking at me.)

But you can’t really damn one manifestation without damning the other. Unity of opposites.

So maybe you have this fundamental thing that has switched priorities for whatever reason–maybe to protect you. But you don’t go around lamenting how you USED to be. Because you’re still exactly you; you’re just you operating under a new paradigm. Nothing has been irretrievably lost, the gears have just shifted. This comes with the implication that they can shift back, but not the necessity.

It doesn’t mean you’ve changed, necessarily, in any way that makes you un-you.

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Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-11 17:09:37

Hmmm. Some Jungian shadow work going on here, Becky?

I have to say, I really like the notion ‘Nothing has been irretrievably lost, the gears have just shifted.’

Anyhow, I feel like I’m jumping on Mary’s turf a little.

 
Comment by Becky
2009-11-12 04:38:56

I had never heard of Jung’s shadow theory before. I had always thought of it in more Taoist/Heraclitian terms, but this is interesting.

Many old, dead, theory-type guys seem to agree.

 
Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-13 00:36:32

Oh really? Yeah, he’s got some interesting things to say, the old Jung.

That being said, I haven’t really got a broad (or even a deep) knowledge base regarding Taoist/Heraclitian terms, so I’ve got some research (MORE RESEARCH) to do.

Agree, yes, they do. But they’re dead, so look where that got them!

 
 
 
 
Comment by Thomas Wood
2009-11-11 22:03:08

I’ve only read the first couple of sentences but I’m already eager. You’re the first person besides my girlfriend and myself to describe someone that way. Of course, we’ve friendlied it up a bit, as in, “She’s got a touch of the Spergers.”

Suppose I ought to read on.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-11 23:11:31

No, no. I think that really covers the important parts.

 
 
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