You know the song, “don’t go changing, to try and please me…..” It’s stuck in my head these days, but I want to change the lyrics. Well, just add a line. “Don’t tell me what to do.” (And for the record, I change the color of my hair all the time, because I want to.)
Here’s why it’s stuck in my head. I’ve been thinking a lot about how and why people change over the course of time. At it’s simplest, it seems to me that people are organic things in a perpetual state of growth and change. As we get new information about things, our minds, habits, patterns, lives and selves change. Anything short of that is entropy, or at least apathy – and not a great way to live.
I know people who stubbornly defy change – about everything from politics to brands of toothpaste – and often repeat the phrase “they can’t change me, it’s who I am.” I guess it never occurred to me that people weren’t constantly changing. I always thought that change itself was the purest manifestation of free will. The purest use of knowledge and experience.
On a slightly more complex level, how and why – and if – we change can also be a very pure representation of what we value. And each of us gets to choose what, why, how and if to change anything about us. And no one, NO ONE, gets to tell us that we have to change, or that we are forbidden to.
Change is a choice that we get to make because the repercussions of NOT changing are not worth it. Or because the rewards of changing ARE worth it. Our choice, based on our desires for our lives.
I’ve been looking at myself a little more than I like to lately. For the most part, I like what I see. I have been examining myself with the intent of figuring out what the very core parts of me are, and what are just habits.
I’ve gotten this vision that looks something like an amoeba. My core being is the nucleus. It is well buried in the endoplasm of my habits, and contained by the ectoplasm and membranes that are the boundaries of my life as I know it. My nucleus is non negotiable. The rest of it is mushy. And the mushy stuff is constantly changing.
As with any mushy substance, when it runs into new barriers, boundaries, or other mushy substances, it can and does change shape. Many, if not most, of the habits that fill up my endoplasmic identity can be changed, if I choose to change them.
The question is why would I change them? Well, I would change them if they interfered with something that I valued more than I value the habit itself. I will always choose what I value more.
I am very clear that I do not have the right to ask anyone to change for me. And I never would. However, I would not deny them the chance to do so, if they wanted to. And that means giving them the information that they need in order to decide whether or not to change behavior pattern. I expect the same.
I have had relationships with people, for instance, whose personalities transformed in a very uncomfortable way when they drank. I have told them that I don’t want to be around them when they drink. It is up to them to choose which is more valuable to them, drinking or spending time with me. It would be unfair for me to just cut them out of my life without giving them the chance to choose. So I told them how their behavior impacted me and gave them the chance to choose. It has played out both ways, but in all cases it is a consensual change because we were honest with each other about how our behavior was impacting each other.
So when I look at my own life, and the things that I do that may make other people uncomfortable, I am surprised at how little I see that isn’t totally negotiable. I can’t – and won’t – make myself stupid, or a wall flower, or soften my opinions about things. But how and when and where I express myself, totally negotiable.
I can change. Because I want to. But, I can’t do it if I don’t know how my behavior is impacting other people. And if I know how it is, and I can see a change that will solve that problem, it is my right to do so. Or not.
And that’s where I’m stuck. I keep hearing people say that you can’t change for someone else. And I want to know why not. Can’t any of us make the choice to change the mushy endoplasmic parts of us to mesh better with the mushy endoplasmic parts of someone or something that we value?
Conversely, if someone refuses to do so, aren’t they saying, very clearly, that the habits are more important than the relationship? That’s good data. Data that can be evaluated without judgment. Data that decisions can be based on. Just data.
I chose to change because I value you more than the habit. I chose not to change because I value the habit more than you. Simple. To expect someone NOT to change for you really isn’t any better than expecting them TO change for you. Because either way, you are taking away their right to decide for themselves.
So here’s the deal. I plan on changing. I plan on changing when, where, why and how I want to. Not my nuclear core, that’s not changing. I am an outspoken, strong, smart, creative, kinky, wild child. That’s not changing. But if I want to change my diet, my friends, my exercise habits, my zip code, my hair color, my taste in music, vacations or expressive outlets, I will do so. Because all that is negotiable – and none of it is as important to me as the people and opportunities in my life.