This month’s MoDa selection How People Change by Allen Wheelis. A profound little book written back in 1973, not self-help by any means, but philosophically deep. Chapter 5 alone, entitled Grass, will make you weep and warrants its own book club discussion.
So much insightfulness, I made ld buy used copies for all our children. Interestingly enough it fits into what I believe and know about repentance in the gospel sense. Wheelis just uses different words and vocabulary and some elegant prose which makes it fresh and clear.
Faith in human transformation is basic to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is the Lord’s program for human growth. Still I am overwhelmingly aware of how difficult it is to change, to transform ourselves into something better, to become Christ-like.
It sometimes bothers me that for the most part my fundamental ways of responding are still recognizable. My fundamental nature hasn’t changed much from when I was 15. I am in my 50’s now. So my wise old dad was right: People grow to be more like they already are. True because the longer you repeat a physical or mental pattern, the more it becomes ingrained and resistant to change.
On the other hand, change and character reform is always possible, it’s just that it doesn’t usually happen much, it’s so dang hard. And in most cases if it does happen at all, it doesn’t happen instantly.
I am still sorting and sifting the role of the Holy Ghost in all this, too. The promise that we can change, really change and become new creatures in Christ, is consistently offered in our doctrine and in the scriptures.
This book is ‘working my thoughts’ as I find it consistent with scripture and truth, it even clarifies some things for me. Read it. Let’s discuss.
While it’s difficult to change who we are, it’s in our power to slowly change what we do, and in turn, those actions will slowly transform us into the people we most want to be.
Action which defines a man, describes his character, is action which has been repeated over and over and so has come, in time, to be a coherent and relatively independent mode of behavior.
Wheelis points out that changing yourself in theory is pretty simple. If you want to stop being a thief, don't steal. If you want to be a writer, write. The idea being that changes in personality follow changes in behavior:
The sequence is suffering, insight, will, action, change. The one who suffers, who wants to change, must bear responsibility all the way.
He also notes that discomfort accompanies change – whether a new manner of relating to reality or the confusion and incompetence experienced when tackling something for the first time. You may feel awkward and anxious, but will succeed by continually exerting your willpower. The process is not a straight path, but a spiral of movement forward, slips, stagnation, and leaps ahead. It is easy to get discouraged and be swayed by the pull of habit, but persistence pays off.
He offers much to think about with his thoughts on freedom, trying harder versus trying something different, and makes the point that what may look like our nature is really our past choices that became familiar. He also states that we sometimes use what we have been in the past to avoid what we can be in the future. He believes that who we have become is our identity not our destiny. This is a key element in change: how we currently perceive ourselves need not remain fixed, unless of course we are determined that it shall be so.
The new mode will be experienced as difficult, unpleasant, forced, unnatural, anxiety-provoking. It may be undertaken lightly but can be sustained only by considerable effort of will. Change will occur only if such action is maintained over a long period of time.