In the spirit of the New Year, I find myself wondering what it means to turn over a new leaf. To start again. To build again. To reform. To change. To resolve. These are all powerful words, and people use them all the time. They’ll say things like: “this is the last time I will…”, or “tomorrow I will…”, and for some, these resolutions do see some fruition. Not the resolutions-i-know-i’ll-break-tomorrow type of resolutions, but the real kind of life-affirming, life-altering resolutions that are based purely on the simple will power of the average human being. No more, no less.
And it makes me wonder if people do change. We are made up of so many elements of socialization and culturalization that are so well ingrained in us, so much a part of who we are, that I wonder if we can fight against them; these things that have become our natural instincts. Can we essentially unlearn what we have learned? More importantly, can we do it out of sheer will power or do we need a catalyst?
The tales I hear that involve people actually changing, usually involve a catalyst: the fundamental contact with a life-altering, often times shocking event that just changes the way they think and act by default. In Jordan, for instance, such stories are those of a person who moves from being religious to becoming non-religious, and vice versa. But it could be about anything. An alcoholic gets in to a car accident and survives, for example.
Rarely have I ever seen anyone who has changed out of a simple desire to do so. There always seems to be a catalyst involved, and it always tends to be that of fear. When we are afraid, we tend to approach things differently. When our lives are at risk, we’ll often do anything in the name of preservation.
Anything else, seems, moot.
Women for example tend to always think they can change a man. They can get him to quit smoking, or settle down or what have you. This domestication and reformation is something I find interesting. It’s not just because women don’t really understand men, but more along the lines of we, as human beings, don’t really understand ourselves quite yet. We don’t know how we work or operate. And yet, we are so willing to claim to know how others work or operate. It’s really fascinating.
So when some one tells me they got so-and-so to quit doing something, I’ve never believed it. While we would be willing to do anything in the name of fear and self-preservation, our same willingness to change for other things seems almost: fantasy. Least of all, love. Sure, we’ll do it for a while, to placate the masses, but it won’t last. I don’t think it ever does.
Even when it comes to the more addictive things. Rarely have I seen someone quitting something that was unhealthy, simply because they woke up one day and resolved to do so. And I sprinkle the word “rarely” throughout this post in recognition of the exceptions.
Maybe this is why we always find films and books and stories about a protagonist who just suddenly wakes up and changes, so interesting. Whether they’re sick of the lives they lead or are having a mid-life crisis or whatever. We observe them closely because we’re trying to figure out how they did it. How they managed to change who they are. Their most essential properties of existance. Redefining in a moment, what took years and years to naturally define.
It’s why all those self-help books always sell out. Seven habits of highly effective people. How to change your life and be a better person. It’s why motivational speakers always sell out large halls and their books and CDs. There is a whole wide market of people who are desperate to change and don’t know how. And in moments of desperation we will cling to anyone offering salvation. Especially if it only costs us three payments of $19.99.
But I think it’s strange how much fear governs what we do. Not love, or sheer will-power, or hope, or any other powerful emotion. Nothing seems to be as potent as fear.
And with only that in mind: what does it mean to truly, turn over a new leaf?