repost: do people change?


A while ago on Facebook I wrote, “Do you think people change? As a Christian I’m supposed to say yes, but if I’m honest the answer is no.”

Nothing in particular prompted this comment; it just bubbled up from reflections on the general drama and dysfunctions that surround us all.

However, it’s a thought I’ve had before, and the responses from others were interesting. They generally fell into three categories:

1. I disagree completely–I’ve experienced life change and I wouldn’t be able to go on in my ministry if change wasn’t possible.

2. I agree completely–people don’t change and part of maturity is accepting that as the human condition.

3. People can change their behavior but not their hard-wired personality, and then only if they’re really motivated.

After thinking about it more, I tend to agree with #3. Of course people change; we can all tell at least a few stories. As one person wrote, “If we truly don’t believe people can change, then we are denying the Gospel.” Or as another said, “We’re saved not just for heaven but to BECOME here and now. We’re not just supposed to ‘change the world.’ We’re supposed to cooperate with our Father and be changed ourselves.”

She’s right—that’s what we’re supposed to do. But few of us do. Even slight changes in patterns of behavior or thought are excruciatingly hard, and most of us won’t go through it unless we’re forced to. This includes me—if I’m more patient, compassionate or humble than I was a decade ago, it’s not because I sought out difficult people and character-building situations.

And although life bumps off some of our rough edges, in other ways growing older just makes us more of who we are. For every transformed marriage there’s another that tanked. For every person who learns to trust more and worry less, there’s another who just becomes more anxious. Zaccheus, Matthew, Peter, and Saul changed radically; others in the New Testament did not.

So my new take is that if we see our need for growth and maturity and want it badly enough, real life change can happen. Outside of that, people will remain pretty much who and what they are, whether they’re Christians or not.

Is this cynical? Depressing? Maybe for some. One friend wrote, “I’ll choose to continue believing people change even if it’s not true because I find comfort in the hope of the greater good in people.”

For me, believing most people won’t tap into that greater good is, perhaps paradoxically, just as crucial for sanity. Accepting this reality and lowering my expectations of others means avoiding disappointments, bitterness, and resentment.

What about you? Do you think people change? How does that affect your relationships and your approach to life?

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