Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

The Young Adult Section: Change

Can people change? The question arises in every relationship we have, though our answer is hardly ever the same. We aim the word “change” at the culprits of our breakups and divorces; it’s like evidence of unfair play. Other times, we place inexplicable amounts of hope in it to justify ties that hurt us, but simply must have a future. (That hope, too, can find a very bitter end.) In some ways, we are convinced that people do change, to our dismay or demand. Yet, in all of these cases, we seem more ready to relegate that possibility to the realm of others. So, in this alleged age of self-discovery, have we been fooled into thinking that we are the constants?

High school was about when I embarked on the epic mission to “be myself.” Much of American youth culture claims to promote this mission. I employed all personality (slash perfume-style) quizzes in women’s magazines and looked up to role models (i.e., Natalie Portman) to try and set something of myself in stone. In light of how mysteriously designed we all are, figuring a thing or two out often feels like relief: “Yeah, I definitely [am this or do that]!”

Statements like these are like exclusive property titles to our life and personality. They represent an ability to look at our past and find precedents and patterns. Maybe it’s around puberty and social entrances that this desire for finalization starts sinking in — a desire to be the master of ourselves. An interviewer reiterated that to me recently, as he walked me out the door: “It really seems like you know yourself,” he said. “Thanks!” I said, without getting into how “knowing myself” was becoming a particularly self-centered source of pride I was trying to tone down. His comment reminded me that self-awareness, as articulated in every cover letter and interview we do, is generally Step One to getting ahead in life.

But there’s a very thin line between self-awareness and self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-awareness is about knowing our strengths, temptations and failures, and accepting what we cannot change. The line is that we don’t always know what cannot change. The prophecy is when self-awareness becomes future-oriented, prescribing unnecessary guidelines with which we hem ourselves later.

I’ve been considering this thin line a lot recently, as I’m a senior graduating in eight weeks. I feel myself toeing it each time a conversation with either of my parents reaches hostile pitches, mostly regarding my future. These people are among those who care for my well-being as much as I do, and maybe more. Their intentions are in the clear, and I know it. So why such violent opposition to the offered advice? Why do I get so sensitive? It’s because, honestly, their different ideas make me wonder if the decisions I’ve made about myself are wrong. And it’s an uncomfortable mental place. For how much I say I’m all for growth and learning and constructive criticism, it’s my tight grip on knowing myself that restricts me from truly opening my heart to friends and family. So, when the debates are over, I realize again that they were never about bouncing around ideas; they were usually about impressing someone about how I already knew my own idea.

Open-mindedness, a well-reputed quality, is often tested by our ability to try a new food, accept that others think differently or listen to others’ opinions in toleration. In actuality, I think that we’re all open-minded about anything that doesn’t matter much to us. The real test comes when we face something that shakes mankind’s most prized possession — our knowledge of self. All we want is to depend on it forever. We even go so far as to tout our own “bad” qualities, hurtful or harsh habits we inflict on others, as distinctive and inevitable parts of us. And in doing so, we end up giving ourselves a free pass to do them perpetually.

A certain degree of self-awareness is essential — everything this column is speaks to how much I think so. Sans a bit of introspection, we’d never learn from mistakes; we’d be constantly vulnerable to foolish situations and we’d face an identity crisis every time we had to pick an ice-cream flavor. But there’s a place where knowledge stops being knowledge and instead becomes our main obstacle. Or, perhaps, the main obstacle is acknowledging that we’ve reached that point of self-restriction at all.

People can be changed, though, in enormous ways. I’ve experienced it myself and seen it in others, and now have faith that it’s possible.

 

If there’s a line stopping you from contacting Nina, just cross it. Here! Her email is ninamc “at” stanford “dot” edu. She loves hearing back from you.