“I’ve changed”

April 19, 2015

I sometimes think the theme of my life is to resolve my difficulty with people who want yet another chance despite past disastrous results.  They say, “I’ve changed.”  I think my version of Diogenes and his search for an honest man is my desire to find an instance in which the other person (or couple or family) actually has changed in a way that would actually make things come out different if we tried again.  I’ve tried again, many times, with many people.  Clearly there’s a lesson I haven’t yet learned.

What I think I have learned, though, is that in these situations, the people involved need encouragement to blossom themselves and in ways they avoid, if things are ever to come out any different, and that the only encouragement they will perceive from me within a re-engagement won’t lead to that but will lead to further entrenchment of existing patterns of interaction, the patterns that lead to the disastrous results.

I think the question for me at this point may be to what extent I can ever actually be helpful in that process of blossoming and to what extent that is a process these people will engage in, if they engage in it at all, with others.

At least wishing someone well is a unilateral act.

I actually think the theme of my life is loss, and that this scenario is a subset of that theme.  It’s a loss which requires my recognition of the reality, rather than a situation in which I have no choices to make and the loss occurs in the same way whether I am willing or not willing, conscious of what is going on or not.

It’s a tough one, because this situation doesn’t come up unless there are also strands of at least seemingly positive connection.  And one is letting go of the possibility that this will be the instance in which re-engagement actually works out, that Diogenes will this time find what he is looking for.

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6 Responses to ““I’ve changed””

  1. Jeff in New Jersey Says:

    Hello, Diana.

    I still read your many personal reflections, but have not commented in a while.

    As to why people disappoint you by claiming they have “changed” when actually very little, and not in the ways that you hope, there seems to be a deficiency in your viewpoint.

    You are a naturally sensitive and empathetic person, so I would not suggest you should become more “tough-minded,” but you do need better understanding of the deeper factors — like a teacher who is mature, wants to help immature children, but yet does not take them too seriously or expect too much right away. Right habits of thought and motivation can take a decade or more to form, as any director of a religious order can tell you.

    Many of the undesirable qualities in behavior of others are very deeply rooted in their intellectual and psychological limitations. People do not themselves see the subtle components of complex behavior, which they take to be acts of Will without realizing complex origin.

    What such people need, if they really desire to “change,” is the rigor and discipline of highly structured and insightful training. There are a few such programs for executives and other men of business who sense personal limitations which are causing self-defeating behavior. There used to be “strict discipline” programs that people who were alcoholic or believed they have failed in life could sign up for.

    Probably the closest thing to it is some form of psychoanalysis or in-depth guided reflection, but that is costly and severe discipline is not emphasized.

    The writer, Theodore Dreiser (“American Tragedy”) did once, from earlier failure in his writing career, try one of these programs. The director, a strict character, once said to him in front of the others, “Look at this man. He thinks he is very wise. He thinks he is a philosopher. But if so, why would he need to be here!”

    I do not know if anyone can find such highly developed and skillfully directed training these days. The closest thing to it I ever experienced was thirteen weeks of Marine Boot Camp. U.S. Marine drill instructors are carefully selected and really do know how to change a man. Better for me that I enlisted at eighteen and went to college later. I did not see my professors as “oracles of high moral wisdom” in their distorted and partisan liberal viewpoints. In the Marines for three years, I had learned to be realistic about people and the world. I was not “brainwashed” as so many youth are in college. An maybe nothing good would have come of boot camp had I not then been as young as I was !

    It would take the insight and discipline of a sage to reform his own inner character without the patience and help of a good teacher. You might be able to do such a thing for your own children, but I doubt there would be much effect upon adult friends or relatives.

    –Jeff in NJ

    • Diana Moses Says:

      Thanks, Jeff. I think I am less vulnerable to taking people to be “‘oracles of high moral wisdom'” than I am vulnerable to believing people when they indicate, usually indirectly, that they themselves behave morally. I have this idea that I have to take people at their word about themselves until they prove otherwise, and that, I think, is how I end up in these difficult situations. I need, maybe, a better way to go about the “trust but verify” sequence.

      • Jeff in NJ Says:

        I did not mean to suggest you were vulnerable in that way, Diana. Just an illustration from my own experience.

        What I meant was, you do not seem to appreciate how strongly other people are “locked in” to their adult personalities from the many factors which have contributed.

        There is a certain kind of adult maturity which is not at all attractive. I have a relative who was honest and “good” as a child, but maturity changed her for the worse as self-interest conditioning relentlessly prevailed .. .. ..

  2. Richard Says:

    I think you’re tragically compassionate. Do not beat yourself up for this however, there is an extreme shortage and your actions may just encourage another to exhibit the same….

  3. Jeff in NJ Says:

    I agree with you, Richard. Diana is naturally trusting and compassionate. And like other people who have these desirable qualities, she pays a price.

    I would guess minimizing it and reducing impact would be the only rational remedy.


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