You don’t get to change people [Things I’ve learned this year]


To understand me, you ought to take a while and think about the idea of change.

Change is not obtained by default or without meaning. Change is something that one must purposefully eye and desire. Change comes only through planned steps and willful delayed gratification. One cannot simply wait to change; one must be active, determined, and not easily deterred. 

I have sought change myself, through relating to God and others and seeing the change that is necessary, and then reaching, straining, even, to grasp it. I have fought, many times, against the very real desire not to change. At times, I was successful.

We all have relationships with people who also need desperately to change. We see them, their sins so clearly visible in our eyes, making us think, “that person desperately needs to get a handle on ___.” Many times it is true — the things we need to change are often only visible to others. Often, we can’t see the tragedies that are closest to us.

But then, we reach in, trying to inject some wisdom, and the result is confounding. “I love you,” we say, “and I feel I need to point something out to you.”

But the reaction we get is often not what we want. We wanted to offer hope, direction, help. But instead of being received, we get rejected.

Why?

Motivation can’t been seen, but in this case, it makes all the difference. I’m not taking about their motivation — I’m talking about our motivation for giving advice. 

I’ve found that many times, when offering advice, I have at least a little bit of selfishness in my motivation. I want to be the knowledgable one. I want to be perceived as helpful.  I want to tell someone what to do.

I’m not saying that my intentions are completely evil. 

I’m not saying I’m completely selfish. But I’m saying that I’m not completely pure, either. In every heart, there exists some amount of darkness, and I have to reckon with that fact for myself.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. 

I don’t know if most of us understand that old adage. What does it mean to show someone how much you care? It means that there are no conditions on your concern for someone. It means that you are able to show that your care for someone is constant, regardless of whether they accept your advice. It means you show that you won’t think less of someone if they dismiss your words.

That is difficult — near impossible even — to do when you lead with your advice. As long as I lead with my advice first, I’ll just be perceived as another finger-wagging onlooker, rather than a friend.

While it is true that people change because of the wise words of their friends, they don’t get changed by their friends. Rather, people change when they see the change that is necessary, and then take responsibility on themselves to change their own attitudes and actions. The words of friends can only help bring the need for change into the light, but the decision to change is ultimately a personal choice.

The point is, a decision to change is not one we get to make for other people. Our moral imperative is not to change those around us, but to love those around us.

We can offer observations said out of love, but the decision to change is not ours, and has no bearing on our obligation to love.

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