You Can Try Until You Are…

blueintheface Some things aren’t going to change. Ever. And some things most assuredly can. But how can you tell which is which? You probably already know.

First there’s the question of changing someone else. You’ve heard it a million times: people don’t change. But if they didn’t, I’d be spinning my wheels all these years for nothing, and I don’t have that kind of tolerance for frustration. It’s more like the old lightbulb joke: “How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one. But the lightbulb really has to want to change.”

Although you can’t change someone else, you might inspire them to try something they’ve secretly wanted to try, like therapy, say, or taking a risk doing karaoke or skydiving. You could force them to change, but if you do, watch out! It either won’t last, or you’ll wind up paying for it, bigtime.

After a zillion years doing therapy with a zillion different people, I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I can’t: you can’t change character. At least I don’t know how (and if you do, please, please write in asap ’cause I want the secret!) You can change perspective, you can change your mind, you can even change your desires. But you can’t turn a dishonorable person into an honorable one.

Oh, that’s not to say that circumstances don’t sometimes jolt people into change. Near death experiences have a way of bringing out promises of “I’ll be a better person,” just like they did when you prayed that, if you weren’t pregnant, you’d never have unprotected sex again. But the promises made in the face of terror (“if my father doesn’t kill me for this, I swear I’ll never lie again”) must stand up to the test of time and the light of happier days and stronger temptations. And if promises and motivation are not resting firmly on good, solid character, well, count on things crumbling beneath your feet.

Maybe it’s just that you wish you didn’t know what you already know. Maybe you’re just hoping for what you want to happen, instead of rolling up your sleeves and digging in to make it happen. Maybe, like the Mullah Nasrudin in the Sufi story, you’d rather look for the lost key under the lamp post, rather than in the dark bushes where you dropped it.

Take your measure of the distance between what you wish were true and your experience of what is in fact true. The bigger the distance, the less likely you’re going to bridge it. Pay attention to how you feel, what you see, what you’ve tried and the results you’ve gotten. You already know what’s worth the effort, because there is a possibility of sustainable change, and what’s not, because it ain’t gonna be and stay new-and-improved no matter what you do.

You already know when things might be different, and when all the wishing and trying and working and hoping just won’t make it so. Sometimes you’ve just got to feel blue for a while and move on. It’s painful, but not nearly so painful as trying and only succeeding at getting blue in your face.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved


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