Saturday, March 18, 2006


Plus ça change...

In a conversation with a friend on Thursday, I was talking about something I'd said in this post — specifically, this:

[...] fundamentalist parents demanded an alternative reading list for their children [...]. The books in question included Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and The Wizard of Oz, the latter because it teaches that characteristics like intelligence, compassion, and courage can be developed within oneself, conflicting with their belief that such things are given to you by God... or aren't.
On the question of developing such qualities within oneself, I said that I believe people have an essentially infinite capacity to change themselves. "Really?", she said, surprised.

Yes, really; I do believe that, and I've seen it often, in others and in myself — I'm very different from how I was 30 years ago.

I've seen once-shy people overcome that and become self-confident and assertive. I've seen people who were abrasive and difficult make the necessary adjustments to become warm people I enjoy being with. I've watched some who once had derogatory names for people who weren't like them become accepting of a healthy diversity of cultures and ideas.

I think about the case of Tookie Williams, and I see the change in him. The man did some nasty things and had a violent past, but turned it around and worked to teach children not to repeat his mistakes. He could have been pretending to change, to save his own life, but it seems unlikely: he had enough credibility in it to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Mr Williams changed, and had something important to contribute to society. And yet he was executed anyway — one of the best examples I can see of why the death penalty is wrong.

This belief that people can change themselves is one of the things that keeps me going. It's part of human nature to look out for our own interests at the expense of others, to be intolerant of those different from ourselves, to reject those whose ideas we disagree with. And yet, we can change; each of us, as an individual, has an essentially infinite capacity to change for the better, and, in the process, to make a difference to others. It's what lets us transcend those aspects of our nature.

That gives me hope.

Plus on change...
Non, ce n'est pas la même chose.

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