As I drove to church this morning, I thought about humans’ capacity for change. I’ve often heard that people can’t change. You know, “A leopard can’t change its spots.” I googled that adage and check out the third autofill:
What? The Bible? And lo and behold it’s right there in Jeremiah. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention the last time I read the Old Testament. Anyway, I suppose I can’t fault those who believe people can’t change–it’s biblical.
Except that verb “can’t” is a sticking point for me. It would mean something entirely different if the phrase was that a leopard doesn’t change his spots. I think that’s what believers of that adage really mean: whatever experiences they’ve had in their lives has led them to the belief that people do not change.
And for some people, I suppose, that adage is true.
But this morning as I thought about change, I remembered that I’m coming up on the 20 year anniversary of the end of my church mission in Montreal, and it’s so obvious to me that people can and do change.
I came home from my mission mostly fluent in French, fully on fire for my church, and laser-focused on getting married. Twenty years later, my French fluency is gone, my relationship with my church is “complicated,” and I’ve reached a peace of sorts that I will never be married.
I’m more active and vocal in my political beliefs, and even as a teacher I’ve changed. I remember my first years in the classroom when I ran low on patience and mercy. Now, I continue to surprise myself when I respond to students who test my patience with a heaping of mercy.
My friend AJ teaches and directs the choirs across the hallway from my classroom. We both have opportunities to work with and reconnect with alumni, and occasionally he’ll name drop a kid that elicits an unkind-ish non-verbal response from me.
And he reminds me, “Isn’t it great that we aren’t the same people we were in high school?”
People can and do change. And I know you can probably give me the names of five people who can’t and don’t change, without even creating a new wrinkle in your brain. I get it.
But I wonder what our lives and relationships would be like if we allowed for the possibility that people can change. I think I might like what that world would be.