May 26, 2021
There is a thinking error that we see in our world often: “The Fallacy of Change.” It refers to the idea that you can change other people through your efforts. It’s hard to see this as a thinking error, because we don’t like the idea that we cannot change others. However, if you think on it carefully, the idea becomes clear. The most common version of this is the stereotype where a gal will date a “bad boy” because she knows she can change him if she just tries hard enough. This rarely turns out well for the young lady who hopes of reforming her wayward beau. “If I just work hard enough or love them well enough, they will become something different,” is a dysfunctional way of approaching people. Few of us are trying to change a “bad boy,” but if we apply it to other parts of our lives, it can become more clear. You can’t make your neighbors quit smoking/fighting/drinking no matter what you do. You can’t make people vote the way you want them to. You can’t pass legislation that will prevent people from committing crimes. This probably seems like a rather bleak view of the world or even a tad hypocritical coming from a guy who writes advice columns/preaches sermons/does counseling. In reality, I struggled in my line of work until I came to the basic truth that I cannot change other folks. I can counsel an alcoholic, offer great direction, analyze their childhood trauma, and teach them the inner workings of the addictive mind. However, I can’t do a thing to keep them from drinking. I preach sermons, but folks choose to follow Jesus and try to be like Him… or they don’t. Leo Tolstoy once wrote “…in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.” The basic idea behind this is that I may want to change the world, but in the end, the only thing I can do is affect my own life. I speak and write often in an effort to change folks. I can study, learn, and improve as a communicator in an effort to influence others, but I can’t make anyone change. Sometimes, it’s best to simply back up and let people make their own mistakes and be there to help them learn and grow on the other side. I cannot carry anyone to a better life. I can love and serve others in an effort to improve the world. I can act in healthier ways in my relationships in order to encourage change. I can act in righteous, loving ways toward my family in order to offer an example for my kids to emulate. However, if I tell myself I can change anyone, I am lying. This means that the best I can do is be better myself. I can act right and serve others. I can seek to learn and grow. I can treat others as I would like to be treated. In the end, how I live will do more to influence folks than most of the words I say or write. I’m not saying that words aren’t important. In fact, without a willingness to speak about what’s right and important you cannot really influence folks. Even then, a shockingly small number of folks actually change their minds in response to Facebook rants or angry accusations.