Change is tricky. When someone changes a long-held view, begins to lean the opposite way politically, alters deep-seated religious views, or switches their stance on a particular issue, it can be disconcerting. It makes sense to respond with a healthy sense of skepticism; to be dubious, doubtful, hesitant, confused, and even angry. But change can be good, healthy, slow-going, and revolutionary. If we want to believe the world can change, we have to be willing to let people change.
I lost my father at fourteen after he battled with cancer for several years. My world felt uncertain, unfair, and out of my control. I responded to my heartache and depression by choosing my views and tenaciously sticking to them. My vocabulary included common phrases such, “I will never” and “I won’t change my mind.” As I grew older – and naturally changed my mind – those words came back to haunt me and I sometimes became further entrenched in a view, simply to avoid hearing “I told you so.”
Pride became a major hurdle for change. But I did change over time with experience, education, friendships, increased empathy, and less need for control. Thankfully, many people said, “I told you so,” the went on to give me grace and allow me to change.
I remember one particularly heated discussion about women’s reproductive rights that had my sister crying as she spoke about her friend’s lived experiences. I am certain that she wanted to scream at me to stop being so rigid and learn some compassion and empathy. It took quite a few years, but I did learn those skills. And I remembered that she loved me while I changed in what probably felt like the smallest of increments. My sister knew that if we want to change the world, we have to let people change. And change can take time.
In a high school class discussing sex and abstinence, I recall insisting that no one should have sex who is not prepared to have children. Full stop. This view felt morally right and immune to flexibility or deviations. I remember some of my classmates pushing back and even being vulnerable with their personal life choices to help me see other view points. I would not budge and I was judgmental and unkind.
But I grew, changed, and learned to take in new perspectives. Some of those same people are Facebook friends with me now and we share many of the same ideals. They were willing to see who I had become because they know that if we want to change the world, we have to let people change.
When I became a mother, I cannot count the number of “I’ll nevers” that could have been thrown in my face. I was so certain then, pre-children. I use the compassion I have for the pre-mom me and give it to others who are still entrenched in lots of “I’ll nevers.” I try to remember the black and white me when someone budges on a point in a discussion or agrees to research a topic more thoroughly. It’s tempting to say “I told you so,” but I want to celebrate change. I try to remember inexperienced me when others blunder as they change. I know that, if we want to change the world, we have to let people change.
Now I’m not saying that we don’t need to hold people accountable for their words, actions, and decisions. Change often requires accountability and apology. Sometimes it is too late to repair or build a relationship with someone whose past behavior hurt or maligned others. Change sometimes comes too little, too late.
But I believe that people can be transformed through experiences, relationships, and education. Change can happen at a snail’s pace or crash into you like an out-of-control semi. If we can love and encourage people through change, incredible things can happen. If we want to change the world, we have to let people change.