Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Exploring Personal Change

Another Blogger recently wrote two posts about our potential for fundamental change and invited our opinions. I was the lone commenter who said that humans rarely change at a fundamental level. Of course that made me feel just a little silly, but instead of grandstanding in the comment space on someone else’s Blog, I thought I would explore my thinking here.

I somewhat liken this to my dog Jake, who came with a very characteristic smell. It’s not bad, it’s not even good, but it is definitely Jake. No amount of shampoo ever changes that smell. It’s his for life.

I look at my husband and myself. We’ve just come to an acceptance of the fact that I don’t like to lose or misplace anything, I will always get things done early, I am somewhat of a technophobe; he is a packrat, he is intrigued with anything technical, he is perpetually late. These are the things that as a whole define who we are. We’ve come to accept each other’s idiosyncracies and it’s a good thing, because we would either be eternally at war or divorced long ago.

Then there’s the issue of religion. I officially changed religions in my mid-20's. But I never changed one aspect of my belief system. I have always talked to the same God and had the same minimalist set of beliefs.

What I’m starting to see is fundamental change may take place only when society or the person affected sees it as imperative to leading a better or healthier life. An alcoholic who never takes another drink has indeed accomplished a fundamental change. A person who gives up owning a car and now must go by foot has made a fundamental change of sorts. A person who goes from hating a particular segment of the population to loving (or even feeling neutral toward) them has made a fundamental change. A person who gives away a lifetime of accumulated wealth and takes a vow of poverty has also made a fundamental change.

I contend that for most of us, the changes we make are more superficial. We change our hair style, we lose/gain weight, we change our diet, we even change the way we speak to others. But deep down, in that innermost space of our hearts, I think most of us are the person of our birth. I think our set of values is largely a product of our upbringing that remains fairly well intact for most of us.

I think back over the people I have known in my lifetime. I could cite a handful of people who have made extraordinary changes in their lives. But for the most part, the rest have not experienced fundamental change as I think of it.

Does this mean I don’t run in the same circles as everyone else? Or is it just a matter of how you define fundamental change?


Blogger Cyndy said...

I think it is largely a matter of how you define fundamentaly change, and that is going to vary quite a bit from one individual to the next.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

Sorry about the typo - fundamental, not fundamentaly! One thing that will never change for me is always, on some level, feeling apologetic about errors.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Cyndy -- As usual I totally missed the typo until you pointed it out. Isn't it amazing how the mind works?

11:15 AM  
Blogger lettuce said...

i was going to make a similar comment to cyndy
- a change which seems superficial from the outside - a change of hair style - could actually signal a very fundamental change in self-image, confidence etc....

also, i don't think we are who we are at or from birth... i think what/who we are is a constant process of becoming. some things about us might never change, or not much, but some will

this is such an interesting discussion

1:02 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Lettuce -- I am the first to agree that all of us are in a constant state of flux (change). It's the definition of that word FUNDAMENTAL that we all seem to have differing opinions on.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I think I'm pretty much the same person at the core. I walk more now. Stress less. Have more stories, more travel, more experience under my belt, but I still love Nancy Drew. Organization. Gum drops.

I think that's one of the hardest things about spending time with extended family. They remember me for the person I was when I was eight. I might not have fundamentally changed per se, but I might have fundamentally shifted a few degrees.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Precisely! This is exactly what I have been trying unsuccessfully to say.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

We will always be humans so fundamentally we remain the same that way. Our genetic makeup remains the same. But our behaviors, our thoughts, our convictions, our attitudes, are influenced by our choices and so can and do change. I agree that the discussion rests in the interpretation of the word fundamental.

5:24 PM  
Blogger e said...

Interesting points, Cyndy, Lettuce and Barbara.

As a person who has made more than one fundamental shift in her lifetime and who is embarking upon another currently and in the months to come, I applaud your efforts at discussing such a personal topic.

I am most definitely a different woman from the one my parents raised and remember that some of that occured amid great personal pain.

Also at the core, however,always was a person of resilience, whose drive to survive and even flourish. Some of that is no doubt genetics, but some also comes from people, events and experiences, all of which can push us to explore changes we may not even understand at first.

5:31 PM  
Blogger d. chedwick said...

when I look back to the human being I was say at age 5 or 6, I see the me of today very clearly in that little person.-- that is part of my core, (I liked that you used the word core) like the rings on a tree, that inner core of who we are never vanishes, it's there, we can create a better life, create positive change, DO all sorts of new things, but the essential us still contains quite a lot of the core person. it's precious. BEing rather than DOing. Although we are constantly doing things to become... as Letty says. Anyway I hope not to change too much.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline, E -- I respect the fact that each of you has obviously dealt successfully with some significant changes in your lives. But I keep looking back over my life and I have trouble finding something I would call a fundamental change. I can point to little things like my loss of naivte when I moved from a small town where no one even locked their doors to DC where crime was a fact of life.

Ched -- I can identify totally with everything you said. You described yourself and me so well. I have done and seen so many things in my lifetime that have enriched the core I started out with. The rings of the tree are such a good analogy. Although I'm far from perfect, I have no burning desire to change anything about myself, at least not right now. I am content with my life, my family, my friends, my beliefs, my economic state, even my aging body.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

I think that the few people who are lucky enough to have reached a state of contentment in major aspects of their existence don't need to be out there looking for change. Everyone else is still looking and when they find a way to be happy and are satisfied with their level of happiness they will stop looking.

Some people will keep looking for something better no matter how happy they already are. They want to be even happier, I guess.

One more totally hypothetical thought: What if you were miserable, through and through? Would you accept that as your lot in life - that you are fundamentally destined to be miserable, because you've always been miserable? Or would you try to change? I suppose the truly miserable find a bit of comfort staying the way they are because they are used to it and looking for change would make them more miserable.

You can chose to change if you feel you need to, but you don't don't have to if you don't want to.

Sorry this was such a ridiculously long comment. I should have written my own damn post instead of spewing all of this nonsense in your comment section, but apparently I'm way too lazy for that!!!

If only I could change....

2:09 AM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

I was going to say something incredibly profound, because change is one of the topics that I am studying, but instead..

well, your post reminds me of a joke:

How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

answer: only one, but the lightbulb has to WANT to be change!

I was always resistant to change, but lately I have been embracing it. I think we are scared to step off the cliff into major change, but it is the only way we can soar.

Changing as we speak,


3:24 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Cyndy -- I think about what it would be like to be homeless every time I drive past a large center for the homeless on my way to meditation. I wonder what I would do if I ever found myself in that situation. I can assure you I would be pursuing fundamental change with all my being.

Kelly -- I applaud you and others who have embraced fundamental change in their lives. I hope when and if the time comes I too will jump off the cliff and soar!

8:00 AM  
Blogger Adrianne said...

I did a blog on this topic a while back. I concluded that our essential wiring -- how we process information and what gives us energy -- probably always remains the same. However, I also concluded that we are capable of using our hard-wired processes to make some pretty dramatic changes when it comes to our beliefs, habits of thought, and behavior, if we are open to running some new information through those time-worn processes. So, I think that at our core we remain the same, but that we nonetheless have the potential to change in remarkable ways. We stay the same fundamentally, yet we're simultaneously capable of continual change. Or something like that. I'm rambling now and will stop.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Isn't it wrong to separate our "core" from everything else? We are who we are, from moment to moment. Our "core" is not different from our being.

I think people change constantly -- as Lettuce said, we're all becoming, all the time. It's a process of profound evolution, not the same as changing your hair or buying new clothes. Some of our characteristics may remain the same, but our beings are different in every minute.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that searching for constants is delusion -- nothing is constant. We are empty of fixed characteristics. We are shadows, shifting all the time.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

So after posting that long-winded comment late last night, I woke up this morning thinking..."but I'm still the same person I always was - just better now. I guess I'm just out there looking for enhancements of who I think I am. I'm actually very happily attached to certain aspects of myself. So Barbara is right!"

Those were my very first thoughts upon waking this morning.

Also, Barbara, I hope the you didn't think the "miserable" paragraph was aimed in your direction. I was merely speaking from my own (thankfully temporary)experience!

I think this topic is both easy and difficult to talk about, because so much of it has to do with individual interpretation of the language. To each his own!

11:10 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Steve speaks for me.

Change is life, it really is.

And I really cherish the idea that change on a fundamental level is available for all of us.

Last night I was thinking about the people in Pennsylvania who admitted to the people canvassing for Obama that they could never vote for a black man for prez because of the way they were raised.

They identified themselves as racists, and tried to convince the canvassers that they were incapable of changing that point of view.

How sad!

The Sufi acupuncturist is always asking me, "What's keeping you from changing that habit right now?" It's an empowering point of view.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

To all -- Lest you think I'm mired in concrete, I fully acknowledge that change is good and necessary. We all are constantly evolving. I still feel (contrary to Steve and Reya but in accord with Kristin, Ched, and now perhaps Cyndy) that there is an element of me (which I refer to as my core) that is almost as unchangeable as my DNA and my dog Jake's characteristic smell.

It is my intention to live my life in a way where I am not actively seeking out change, but rather welcoming it as it comes. Will it be "fundamental"? I may never know the answer to that question!

12:57 PM  
Blogger Adrianne said...

This really is a fascinating discussion.

I reread all the comments this morning, and it struck me that maybe there is not as much disagreement as at first appears between those who are speaking in terms of an unchanging "core" (interesting that all of us in that camp chose the same word!)and those who believe that we are constant works in progress. We all are trying to articulate an answer to a question that I think probably is unanswerable by a mere mortal. Bless us all for trying, though!

Thank you, Barbara, for presenting us with such an interesting line of enquiry.

10:50 AM  

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