Friday, May 19, 2023

Changing Others

Friend-Of-This-Blog Eaton Rapids Joe had a great post on an old truth: that we can never change other people, only ourselves (yes, it is the summary, but should still go read it).   It was a timely reminder for me because I have found myself frustrated, especially earlier in my life, with the concept of changing people.

One might say obsessed, actually.

I am not truly sure where this derives from.  It is not as if I am someone that seeks power over others to make them change, but neither have I been able to completely just "let people be".

I have become more aware of this issue and the levels of frustration that it causes lately in my life.  Circumstances have led me here:  the frustration of Hammerfall 2.0, the frustration of what appears to be a delayed relocation, the frustration of watching the world around me shamble its way towards its own self-fulfilling prophecies.

Part of it derives from simple human nature, I am sure: in some form or fashion, we all start out believing that we change people.  Originally it starts with simple things like emotion or logic; when it goes poorly it moves into anger and force.  But I do not wonder if another part of it is due to the oddity of the post-modern world.

Our technological post-modern world has given us the opportunity to "change" all kinds of things.  We have changed the speed of travel (from foot and horseback to cars and airplanes), changed the climate surrounding us (via central heating and air conditioning), changed information and knowledge (through the InterWeb and availability of almost the entire breadth of human knowledge to anyone with a computer or smart phone),  and changed our relationship with our health (via all kinds of advances in technology).  Add to this that, even as we speak, all kinds of commencements and graduations are occurring right now where young people are being told they can "change the world".

Change, it seems, is one of the new birthrights of the modern era.  And if all that can be changed, why not other people?

That is likely where the older and greyer simply shake their heads.

For change to work and be effective in the human mind and heart, the individual has to want to change. They have to "turn over a new leaf" or "be born again".  Something has to happen internally for there to be that update in operating systems (to turn a modern phrase) for this to occur.  And we, as individuals, have zero direct control over that sort of update in others

To ERJ's point in his fine post, we can find ways to continue to be effective in what we need to be about without endlessly waiting for others to change.  It requires ingenuity on our part sometimes, and sometimes even an almost emotionless management of the situation with the larger goal in mind.  Just as in any kind of organization individuals learn to manage down, manage around, and manage up, so we too have to do this in everything we do.

I do not know that I fully grasped this before.

We can literally pass our lives waiting for others to change.  Or we can simply get up and be about our business, nodding and being engaging while we move forward.    Like most things, the choice is up to the only people we can truly control:  Ourselves.


  1. Thanks for the plug! I liked the turn-of-phrase "...individuals learn to manage down, manage around, and manage up ..." and intend to steal it.

    1. You are welcome ERJ, and steal away!

      One of the things one quickly learns in Quality and Project Management is one has very little power to directly influence things. One learns other ways to accomplish one's job.

  2. I guess I disagree that people can't be changed. I do it all the time with my children. Thus they have grown up to be polite, well mannered and well read children that they wouldn't have become without the change I inflicted upon them. Yes they are a bit more susceptible to change and they do live with me 24/7/365 which isn't the case when we refer to most adults in our lives. Even then though, I think change is possible and does happen but sometimes it requires amoral tactics like brain washing, torture, etc.

    But in large, I do agree that it is extremely hard to change someone else and your time is better spent changing oneself.

    1. German (and many others I suspect) Proverb

      as the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined.

      Children our OUR Responsibility to mold into good adults.

      I *THINK* ERJ and our host was speaking about changing already grown Adults.

      Even old school boot camp seldom changes them as much as FORCES them to behave.

    2. Ed and Michael, I do think that ERJ was discussing adults. And to Ed's point, with enough force and coercion (thinking Communist style here) change can be forced.

      That said, I have met even children that are far more difficult that yours or mine have been. Often this is due to physical or emotional trauma.

  3. Nylon127:25 AM

    Every year at commencements graduates are urged to change the world, how many actually do while how many learn the point of this post today?

    1. Nylon12, probably not as many should. I certainly did not until many years later.

  4. Even though Robert Heinlein had issues with organized religion (I hear he found understanding later) I've found his observations about humans accurate and useful. My Fav about handling people:

    “Never appeal to a man's better nature. He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.” ― Robert A. Heinlein

    “You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein

    “It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein

    “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as “bad luck.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein

    “Don’t ever become a pessimist… a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun, and neither can stop the march of events.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein

    “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein

    The smartest person around can be an idiot IF that subject is in His/Her blind spot Michael.

    1. Michael, the great thing to me about Heinlein is that he worked actual practical advice into his novels. The best writers always do.

    2. Like Heinlein you also write actional able thought-provoking advice in your collapse series.

      That's why you're a daily read although I find English History a tad dry for my tastes :-)

    3. Thank you Michael! That was the sort of thing I was hoping in any of my writing.

      And thanks for your patience in slogging through Anglo-Saxon History. I admit my interests are wide ranging and not always as interesting to everyone as they are to me.

  5. This is the way of internal peace. I have no doubt. I wish I'd had malleable kids like Ed. Mine were stubborn, just like me. My middle one, I never could reach him. Oppositional defiance? Not sure. But there is a fact I cottoned onto: You can't even HELP someone who doesn't want it. Much less change them. I've even heard that a good example should be enough, but that doesn't work either. If you don't explicitly say where the change is from (God is working through me to love you, cause I want to choke the life outta you right now), they will attribute it to your gentle nature. Even people in your own family will mistake kindness for niceness.

    I had in my mind that after marriage, you two worked together to become a unit, a team. Each gave a little and grew a little. I reckon that only works when the head is healthy. A feral child, or an abused one doesn't respond in ways you'd expect. Their self defense mechanism, honed in their youth, sees everything from a threat perspective, not a love perspective. And it may act like a volcano, going dormant then exploding.

    I'll even posit that you really can't change yourself to any good measure. You either cooperate with what God is doing in you (after salvation), or you don't. And you can undo a lifetime of good work with a couple poor decisions.

    Show me a self-made man, and I will show you the product of unskilled labor.©
    It takes God in the man, for man to be man, as God intended man to be.©
    These two quotes were the reason I worked hard for my kids to know God. Because if they turned out like me, that would be a fail. If they were able to find and listen to God and cooperate with Him, they would be what the Master could make.... a Masterpiece.

    1. STxAR: You are indeed right that you cannot help someone that does not want to help even as you cannot change someone. And I have seen incidents just as you describe, where the background precludes change or help.

      I would argue individuals can change themselves to good measure - not completely, but to good measure. If not, there would be no non-religious that do so. But those changes are often not the sort that you are driving at - even those changes can be surface at best, or not dealing with deeper issues.

  6. This may sound odd, but it was a huge relief when I finally figured out I couldn't change no one. I do think it's possible to influence or manipulate people, but I see change as a different animal.

    It's interesting to watch and try to analyze the tactics of those trying to bring about widespread social change in our modern world. People will gravitate toward what they perceive to be in their own best interests, but they are also fickle and prone to quickly reverse or alter course. If they think they are being tricked, forget it. People will usually comply when they feel they have no other option, but given a different set of circumstances, they will usually revert to their core natures.

    1. Leigh - I can see that it could become a huge relief.

      I have to confess that I am struggling with this as a newish concept, something that shocks me as I am well past the age that this should be an issue. To your point there is a certain kind of freedom in acknowledging that, absent influence or manipulation or brute force, I cannot change anyone. It relieves me of that "responsibility". At the same time, it does cause a certain amount of almost sadness as one realizes that in some cases, changes which seem self evidently good are not followed up on.

      People have historically always followed social trends and the desires/wants of those in power (if anyone doubts, read the histories of Greece and Rome). At the same time, even with enforced compliance, there is still an underlying core of resistance that people will keep to how they really are whenever presented with the opportunity to do so.

      Also, people are rational - when presented with a situation which is untenable, many will simply choose to ignore it, walk away, or separate themselves. We are seeing this happen more and more in current times; I suspect it will become a flood.


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