A common desire which people express about their interactions with others, is their wish to see the other person change, or grow, or at least move away from what seem to be unhelpful ways of doing things. We all recognise it. We have all felt the same about someone close to us – a friend, a colleague, or a loved one. The thing is, we cannot change anyone, and the sooner we learn this, the better it is for everyone. The title of this post is taken from a poet’s words about the desire to change others and the wisdom it eventually brings:
‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’
The desire to change another person often arises after a familiar argument or falling out. Among the blame and anger there is also exasperation about the fact that the pattern keeps repeating itself. The pain of the fight entices us to conclude that the next time things will be different. ‘Surely they’ve learnt their lesson’, we whisper to ourselves. But that’s the distinctive feature of a pattern – it keeps repeating itself.
Another example has its roots in our desire to help someone. We see them struggling and we think we have the answers, so it makes sense to offer our help. In that moment, however, we are seeing things from our (limited) perspective. We want to make a difference, but maybe we are mistaken. Maybe, by helping someone too soon, we are preventing them from learning a bigger lesson themselves; one which might positively alter the course of their life forever.
Instead of offering advice, it might be better to remain supportively silent and create the space for the person to ask. It can often require patience and compassion on our part because people may have to approach rock bottom before they are ready to hear what we have to say. Fortunately, there is a way of promoting inquiry: lead by example. But not in a cocky way. Be humble, and don’t have any expectations that the other person will follow.
Whatever your reason for wanting to change someone, check with yourself first. What is your motive? What is your intention? What is your need? Then ask yourself whether the world might be better served by applying your desire for change to yourself. In that way, when others are ready, they may look to you as an example. According to Rumi, it’s the difference between cleverness and wisdom.