One popular saying that’s always struck me as particularly stupid and harmful is, “People don’t change.” Although everyone has ingrained personality traits, we aren’t held captive by them. Believing that we can’t change encourages us to accept our weaknesses. How many people with substance problems claim they aren’t capable of stopping? It’s much easier to continue a harmful behaviour when responsibility is placed on an outside force like genetics or an “addictive personality”.
Saying people can’t change is the same as saying people can’t learn. When you learn something new that knowledge fundamentally changes you. Each piece of information adds to your personal database, creating additional resources to draw on when interacting with the outside world. We face the same temptations to engage in negative behaviour, but we also build a body of experience that tells us the reward isn’t worth the penalty.
In a sense we’re always changing and always staying the same. When I compare myself of today with myself from a few years ago, I observe that I’m the same but more. I’m the same in how I think and process information but experience has changed the way I interpret everything. Every day adds a new layer of character. We should anticipate ageing with optimism rather than dread.
"As we grow old the beauty steals inward" -Emerson
The saying “people don’t change” is harmful because it denies the possibility of redemption. There is something profound about the redeemed. The man who has experienced the lowest rung of existence and conquered his personal demons has an empathy that’s lacking in more saintly people. In a society supposedly built on the Christian doctrine of forgiveness it’s remarkable how eager we are to label people as permanent degenerates. Circumstance and hardship lead many good people to do foolish things. To say those mistakes are irredeemable is hypocritical. If the world considered only your most depraved moments, how would you be judged?
People do change. We make every decision for the first time with no obligation to the past. If we control anything, we control our own thoughts and behaviour. If can improve anything, it should be ourselves.