How easy is it to let people change? To not hold them hostage to expectations, mistakes or patterns of behaviour but let them emerge into something new; perhaps something they’ve long been hoping for and working towards. Rather than insist things stay as they have been, could we wake up fresh each morning and let them be different?
So often it seems we seek evidence, looking to the past for the picture of who people “are”: things they’ve done, choices we’ve made, the values or character portrayed by accumulated decisions, actions or attitudes. As if all these things reveal the truth of who we are – the revelation of the nature of the being who rests within it all.
What else do we have to go on? There are people’s words, their presence or general demeanour, the way they relate, and the things they choose to do (consciously or otherwise). It’s pretty much all we’ve got to work with when it comes to understanding others: how they act in the world, and what that “says” about how well they understand it and the kinds of ideas they have in mind.
Doesn’t that risk making us prisoners of the past, unable to change or grow? Isn’t change – reflecting on things, deciding to go beyond previous limitations – what life’s about, in a way? Is letting people change simply letting them “be”: flawed and trying to improve or overcome whatever seems to be holding us back? Growing, learning and doing better might well be what life “is”.
Yet it can easily seem we’re not free to change; that the past paints a picture of which we can never be free. It sometimes seems we don’t quite have a framework that takes into account the fallibility of human nature, the deeps wounds and insecurities that can derail people’s lives. Why is it that, in seeking perfection, we can be so intolerant and unforgiving of anyone missing the mark? (Notes One)
Maybe it’s part of ego and individualism? This idea of a person being a brand with a consistent image and set of qualities – masks we’re apparently supposed to construct, lock in, and defend to the hilt (Notes Two). Holding people to things they might’ve once chosen, for whatever reason, seems a strange way to be human. Not to say “who we are” doesn’t matter, because it does; but why hold it so tightly?
What would it mean, then, to let people change? To withhold judgement and allow the space for change to happen. Because change must inevitably mean breaking old habits, disappointing expectations, and seeing things in new ways. That’s not easy; but it’s also incredible how change is even possible – that humans have the power to reflect on their lives and choose otherwise (Notes Three).
To shift our ideas about life, ourselves and others we surely need to think differently, act differently, and allow the pictures we have in mind to change. How’s that ever possible if we’re seeking to set everything in stone?
Notes and References:
Note 1: Thoughts of idealism and intolerance
Note 1: The dignity & power of a human life
Note 1: Ideals & the pursuit of them
Note 1: Living as an open wound
Note 2: Masks we all wear
Note 2: Letting go of “who you are”
Note 2: Can we reinvigorate how we’re living?
Note 2: How things change
Note 3: Starting over in life
Note 3: Conversation as revelation
Note 3: All we want to do passes through community
Note 3: Humans, judgement & shutting down