Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Signs of Change

Driving partway across the country gives you an opportunity to get out and see things you wouldn't have otherwise seen. There are some interesting signs by the interstate near Urbana, for example, with Burma-Shave-esque rhymes promoting the benefits of gun ownership. I can't say that I completely agree with the author of these signs, but they are entertaining.

I saw another sign, this one nearer to home, on a church, which asked, "Jesus never changes, how about you?"

This sign had me thinking for a good thirty minutes. The first minute or so consisted of the obligatory jokes about underwear and odor, but then I got down to seriousness, and decided that I completely disagreed with the premise of the sign.

Leaving aside the debate for a minute about whether Jesus changed or not (which, he did!), I just don't see remaining the same as being a virtue.

Let's suppose for the sake of argument that Jesus represents perfection as a human being. Okay, then, we should all strive to become more and more like Jesus... in other words, change. And since we can never actually become perfect, we should keep changing for the rest of our lives, until we die.

But people in this country -- and our country as a whole, really -- have a mortal fear of changing. For example, if we change our opinions on something, then that means that we were wrong about something, and if we were wrong about one thing, what's to say we're not wrong about a whole bunch of things?

Indeed, what is to say that we're not wrong about a whole bunch of things? It is certainly quite a frightening prospect. But to me, knowing the truth about something is not nearly as frightening as not being able to know about it and make corrections.

For example, if I were on an airplane that had been taken over by terrorists, I think I would like to know that fact so that I can at least try to do something about it. The realization that the plane is indeed hijacked would be frightening, to say the least, but once I got over that, maybe I'd be able to do something to stop the terrorists or at least to land the plane safely. I'd at least prefer to die trying than to die cowering!

Similarly, if I harmed another person, I would want to know. The realization that I had broken my ethical goal of not hurting others would be shocking, anger-inducing, and depressing, but that way I could at least have a chance to try and make up for my transgressions, and to change my ways so it didn't happen again.

But all too often people see any kind of change as a sign of weakness. Think about how much flak a politician gets when he/she changes his/her mind on an important issue. The sad thing is, people's forced rigidity will be their downfall. When things can't fit into the boxes people use to classify life, something has to give -- either the rigid system, or their sanity. Too often it's the sanity that goes rather than the unrealistic and unhealthy worldview.

I for one know that I have changed throughout my adult life, and I am extremely glad that I have. I've developed a new outlook on life, and no longer feel worthless and depressed. I've become aware of patterns playing out in some of my interpersonal relationships, and have been able to change the course of the relationships, or if not, at least to take it a lot less personally. And I have learned so much more about compassion and become so much less rigid and inflexible as a result.

Learning from life experiences, and growing and changing as a result, seems like a better plan than not changing at all. I think even Jesus would approve!

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