In my last post, I made the case that the phrase, “People don’t change,” has a lot of truth to it. Upon reflection as well as seeing the finale of House (I will not spoil it), I have modified my view.
“People don’t change” and “people can change” are both true.
Unlike most of the natural world where growth typically unfolds according to a set plan and timetable, people have the capacity to change, in particular in a short amount of time. This kind of change is usually the result of an event that shakes you by rocking your world in some way. An archetypal template for this kind of change is the Biblical story of Jacob wrestling with an angel (Genesis 32:24-28).
Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau and is afraid Esau will kill him for “stealing” his birthright. In this crisis moment, he meets a stranger (really an angel) and spends the entire night wrestling with him. As dawn is breaking, the angel begs Jacob to release him. He won’t. The angel dislocates his hip joint and Jacob still would not give up the fight. Jacob said he will only do it if he is blessed by the angel. The angel agrees and declares Jacob is now named Israel.
When faced with what he believed to be a life-threatening situation, Jacob decided to fight. He was changed and was never the same physically, mentally, and spiritually. The change in name symbolizes the magnitude of the change in his life.
Even if we do have a blueprint built into us that speaks of the potential we can strive for, the road to reaching it is filled with twists and turns as well as pivot points that can change the direction we are going in, our self-perception, and who we believe we can be.
It is true that an apple tree can only grow into an apple tree; no matter how much it might want to be an orange tree, it is not going to happen. The apple seed is programmed to only become an apple tree. But as we navigate life and are faced with choices big and small, we have the gift of free will to choose how we want to be and what kind of life we want to create. The blueprint we are born with can be a trusted guide to help us make wise choices. Unlike an apple tree, there are infinite ways our lives can turn out.
The families we are born into and the life events we experience are the soil we are planted into. But we are not limited to play out a story that has been handed to us via family, teachers, friends, or society, as well as any story we create for ourselves. Depending on what we nurture, we can change our life story.
The blueprint is set. But whether or not we grow into sour, shriveled apples or magnificent juicy ones is to a great degree in our hands.