Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I've been thinking (both surprising and frightening, I know)...Why is changing so often looked on as being a negative thing?

The thoughts began in class on Monday. I was showing a couple of episodes of the Morgan Spurlock documentary 30 Days that aired on FX last summer. He and other participants spend 30 days in the life of another culture, often cultures that the participant has strong feelings about. In one episode, a Midwestern farm boy goes to live in Castro district San Francisco with a gay roommate. In another a Christian man from Virginia spends 30 days with a Muslim family from Michigan. Neither man changed drastically (in my opinion). Both got to experience first hand what it was like to be the minority or an outsider in the community. They got to know the value of individuals over group labels and stereotypes.

What surprised me was the reaction from the class. "How is he going to go live with a gay guy for 30 days and suddenly change his views on homosexuality," one student said. "That's pretty wishy-washy, if you ask me." Another student piped up, "Yeah, I would never change my mind about what I've been taught growing up." I cringed inwardly (and probably outwardly too). I can't think of anything more frightening than the inability to shift our view points in the face of new, compelling information and experience. Where does this difference in perspective come from? Why do some people look at the mutability of ideas as a personality flaw while others see adapting to new information as a sign of maturity?

The same topic was covered briefly in a book I just finished reading, The Road Less Traveled. The author, M. Scott Peck discussed how growing as whole individuals is a primary goal of human existence and that to do so requires self-discipline. One of those disciplines is the willingness to undergo the discomfort or outright pain of a continually growing and shifting map of reality (what we ourselves know to be true). He believes that the refusal to evolve our beliefs as we gain new insights results in a stunted growth process and at worst actual neurosis. I have to admit I agree.

I won't pretend changing one's mind or situation is simple or comfortable. It's not. I've found myself mired in unproductive or painful patterns of thinking or acting that I knew were harmful but continued because they were more comfortable than change. Especially when change involved conflict. If a way of thinking or acting isn't productive, I want to have the strength to walk away from it regardless of what others think. I never want to shrug my shoulders in defeat and say, "I guess that's just who I am." This kind of process probably takes a lifetime...or two or three.

However, when I've made changes in my perceptions or lifestyle, I've never asked others to make those changes with me. I have no illusions that what is right for me is always right for someone else, but it seems that those people who are adverse to change see change in others as a silent attack on themselves. For example, and this is a minor one, when I became a vegetarian, many of my friends and family reacted as though my not eating meat was somehow a personal affront. One friend in particular said, "You've become this totally different person who I don't even feel like I know any more." And this is obviously a negative thing.
But to me it isn't. Yes, there are a few core values that positive growth won't compromise: honesty, searching for truth, learning, loving and caring for others. Beyond that I hope to always be evolving and growing mentally, emotionally and spiritually. My approach to making those core values more and more a part of my life might shift, slightly or radically. Thus friendship takes effort. I won't be the person you knew last year; hopefully I'll be a better one, and a better friend or family member because of it. I want my true friends and family to stay connected and be there to experience each other's growth and appreciate and support the "new" who that we are on a daily basis.

It's not for me to judge the change in others. I won't look at a friend who has made a fresh committment to be a better person and say, "We'll see if she goes back to her old ways in a week or so." It doesn't even matter if I deem the change of opinion or lifestyle "important" or "valuable." It doesn't matter if I even fully understand their motivations or reasoning. All I can be is an encouragement to the growth process. And I know the people who are closest to me would do (and have done) the same for me.


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