Tuesday, November 22, 2005


In the past few weeks I've heard from three (very) different sources that "People don't really change all that much" over the course of a lifetime.

I'm trying to think this through. This seems right as personality is concerned. But how far does it go? And what role do habits play? And are we prey to certain habits because of our personalities? If habit forms character and habit is acquired through natural proclivities, then isn't our character and very moral fabric determined before we are even born?

Of course, I know this is the old Nature vs. Nurture debate. And I know our families and societies play a big role in habit formation as well. But could I, for example, being a generally standoffish, keep-to-myself person, recreate myself through habit, into a welcoming, engaging, warm, social-butterfly kind of person? Interestingly, in high school I was this for one year. One year in all my thirty-one. What caused my behaviour that one year? Could that change have been sustained had I not suffered personal tragedy and recoiled?

I'm trying to feel out how far habit and will can really take us.

Each time I heard this week the idea of our basic unchanging nature, I became very uncomfortable. It isn't only because I'm scared to death that I'll have to be this for the rest of my life (which I am, by the way) but also because I've found hope and a reason to live and work hard in the idea that change is possible. And because I don't know how to believe in predestination, whether social or theological. ( I am not going to argue the finer points of reformed theology here.) To me, the possibility of change is what redeems the endless cycle of monotony and meaninglessness that Ecclesiastes talks about and which I have lamented over before in this blog.

Anyway, I have to run. I'm late (something which proves change is impossible) for a thanksgiving Feast at my children's school. No time to flesh this out. But I wanted to write something down, so I can think about it more clearly and get anyone else's thoughts on the matter.


Roo said...

What if you are an idea?

In the Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers speaks of 'Idea, Energy, and Power' as a way to look at the relationship between the roles of the creator and created.

She speaks of the Idea as being timeless, reflecting God the Father. Then God incarnate, the Son, as the active working in the world. You'll have to read the book for how she sees the Holy Spirit's role in the resulting 'Power' of the work.

What if you are an idea, continually fleshed out, and (when it suits the play) displayed in power?

Then how could you alter one bit? And how could change not be at the very centre of your being?


laura said...

I believe change is possible.
I was told to pray for the willingness to want to change. The rest of it I guess just comes with time & patience.

I remember someone told me that I have to "act myself into a new way of thinking, not think myself into a new way of acting."

Hope that makes some sense!

Anyways, Happy Thanksgiving!

xoxo ;-)

Rachael said...

Thank you both for the comments.

Andrew: A helpful idea. But it's hard for me to believe that I'm becoming one specific thing, this idea in the mind of God, like I had no other choice. I guess I think being is more open-ended than that. I don't think we are cemented to one particular end, rather, that we shape ourselves to a large degree by our choices. and I don't believe they are faux choices (ie. from our vantage point we are making a choice but in reality we're just shuffling further down a prescribed path). I think we actually effect change, maybe even change what seems to be an inevitable outcome of history or change the mind of God (as Moses so unsettlingly did).

God makes us unique and there is no becoming someone else, of course. But I want to know how much give we have to work with in these clothes.

Laura: I've seen remarkable changes in you as a result of choices you made and habits you decided to cultivate (or de-cultivate). ;)

Aiden said...

Simply believing change is impossible will make it so. There are endless possibilites as far as decisions go; we can certainly shape things.

Actually, I think neuroscience is totally fascinating because of this. An invisible force directs the visible wiring and re-wiring of our brains, shapes our thoughts, thought patterns, habits...

Part of me feels this force is ME; part of me still can't totally grasp that. It's so incredible and mysterious.

Rachael said...

Aiden: I agree. Both that neuroscience is fascinating and that we shape things by decision, which is preceeded by thought.

Eliot likes to pretend he has super-powers so I made a list of "human powers" and presented them to him, telling him he is a very powerful being, with amazing but dangerous powers, that he must learn to use well. One of these is "The Power of Thought" which he calls "The Power of Fink". It's incredible how often he references these "powers" and how effective they are in changing his behaviour. I think we all sense that we are wonderful and dangerous at the same time, and are just looking for someone to acknowledge that and ask us to be responsible with the power we hold.

I'm having a hard time with it myself. I've spent my whole life under the weight of "I can't" or "I suck", which is really just an excuse for being lazy and irresponsible and doing whatever the hell I want. Old dogs don't easily learn new tricks; if you want old Rover to play dead, you may have to use a large rock. (how's that for cognitive therapy?)