People are who they are, regardless of how we may paint them in our minds or want them to be otherwise. Some people are practical, pragmatic and detached, while others are driven by their emotions. You may know people who are defined by their occupation while others seem like any job will do, so long as it pays the bills. And then there are political, religious and sociological beliefs, about which we won’t detail in this short work.
What this all adds up to is that people are different and we can’t change each other and shouldn’t try. We have to accept our differences, or we should anyway, out of respect for the other person.
Even when someone exhibits dangerous, reckless or destructive behavior, it’s not our place to interfere. Of course we can always try to guide someone who’s harming his or her self or others to seek help, but we can’t make them, nor can we do anything to alter their personality or way of thinking. Probably one of the most common examples of people trying to change each other’s behavior or personality is in romantic relationships.
Even when they don’t intend to do so men and women try to change each other when they enter into romantic relationships. When we meet someone, an image of that person forms as we learn about them. Over time, the image alters as we get better acquainted and sometimes the person seems different to us than we initially thought. This is when a relationship can take a hard turn, for better or worse.
Probably the worst thing we can do is to try to change someone’s personality, outlook, basic behavior, or whatever it is that makes them who they are as an individual. Like it or not, we are who we are, and no outside forces can alter those characteristics.
The only way someone can change is by doing so on their own. Yes, there can be external influences that may initiate or motivate some kind of transformation, but long term adjustments must come from within.
So what kinds of changes are we talking about here? Suppose someone does not respond to you the way you expect and that upsets you. Here’s an example.
John brings home flowers, candy and a nice gift for his wife Marsha’s birthday. He arrives at home to be greeted at the door by Marsha who is all dressed up for a formal evening out. John has either clearly forgotten about something or Marsha has her schedule mixed up.
If we ignore, for the moment, the obvious communication problem between these two – a much longer topic for another time – how would you expect each person to respond? Oddly, we expect someone to react to things exactly the same way that we do. It’s like being expected to gush over a colleague’s iPhone video of her cat doing something interesting, when you just think it’s dumb.
So in the case of John and Marsha, she expects him to have been home a half hour sooner and dress for an evening out, and he thinks they’re staying in for a movie and pizza. But the reaction is what matters. Immediately, Marsha asks where he’s been and does he know what time it is?
She’s upset, confused and angry. She thinks he just forgot her birthday and made a drive by at the local convenience store for some fast birthday gifts. John, on the other hand, expects her to be appreciative that he remembered her birthday at all and made an effort to do something nice.
Expectations have a lot to do with communication problems and why we wish we could change someone’s behavior. What should happen is for people to be more understanding of each other, taking into account our emotional state, or even our lack thereof.
Communication is really the key. We can all be different and be ourselves if we’re willing to talk and accept those differences in each other. Our diversity is what usually brings us together as human beings, it’s high time we started to recognize it in our personal relationships as well.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd. More at gerydeer.com.