Rocks and Sand

2007-09-14

Everything that exists can be placed in one of two categories: things that change and things that do not. Mathematics never changes, while the time never stops changing. Scientists are finding variations in constants that were thought to be absolute, while atoms have been found to change element through radioactive decay. But at the heart of all this lies a simple question. People can change, but can they change themselves?

If you ask the world in general, you get a clear answer. No. People are the way they are because of their genes, the society they were raised in, and what they were taught. Thieves steal because of their upbringing. High school dropouts fail because they come from bad homes. Like father, like son, and like mother, like daughter.

Therefore, you should accept everyone as they are; it just isnít fair to say that something different is wrong Ė itís just different. People canít help the way they are. Everyone must be tolerant, and accept it. Believing your way is the only right way is horrible, and nobody should do it. There is nothing wrong with homosexuality [NOTE: OR ďalcoholismĒ], it is just the way some people are. Children should not be brainwashed into accepting a certain faith, but be brought up in a secular society where they will be allowed to make up their own minds. Let others be.

It all sounds OK, and fits together well, but is it truly impossible for someone to change himself? I donít think so. It is more of a new idea than an old one. The Bible, which was written a long time ago, says not to ďconform any longer to the pattern of this world,Ē (Romans 12:2, NIV) which clearly implies the existence of a choice. If the audience had not been able to change, there would have been no reason to tell them to. As well, I have found that I am able to change my own thought patterns if I work at it.

If people can change themselves, things are quite different. A problem gambler gambles by his own choice. Other factors can certainly influence him, and addictions are notoriously hard to break, but in the end, it still comes down to him. Nobody has to steal to support a drug habit; the option to give it up is always there somewhere. People are responsible for what they do. There can be right and wrong lifestyles. It is not unfair for parents to raise their children according to their own beliefs. When it comes down to it, you are responsible for who you are.

There are, of course, limits to change. Humans cannot fly. No amount of willpower will change that. In my experience, the changes that can be made are limited to strengthening of weakening what already exist and adapting reactions. You make yourself braver by reducing your fear and being more willing to risk harm. To become calmer in a crisis, focus more on what you should do right then, and less on what might happen later. Although this does not seem like a lot, it actually can be quite powerful.

There are a few methods that you can use to change your thought processes. If you want to change a reaction, then, whenever the situation occurs, deliberately think through the thoughts you wish you reacted with. Attempt to overrule your existing response as soon as possible, and think through the one you want several times. If you just want to remove a response, concentrate on a neutral image, like the hyperspace lines from Star Wars or a generic sunrise. If you are faced with a lasting stimulus, like an addiction, work on delaying your response. Count to ten first. When you finish, immediately start counting again. It is amazing how well you can fool yourself that way. Alternatively, just do whatever it is at that exact moment. That isnít hard. Just keep on not doing it and donít think about the future. If you want to adopt a particular idea or concept, repeat it to yourself. Not over and over, so it becomes a mantra, but now and then, when you have a moment. Think on it, work out the implications, analyze how it would mean you would act. Another method is to pretend that you are who you want to be. Deliberately act the way you want to act instinctively. Intentionally say what you wish you would say impulsively. The human brain contains neural nets, which adapt to repeat patterns they encounter. Give them the patters you want them to give back.

There are a few words of warning with this. These processes take time, and donít have a big effect at first. You also have to know what you want and how to do it. This is not for complex things, like understanding your calculus homework, but for simple ones, like trying it anyways.

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