The Tao of Changing Others

“We cannot change others, but when we change ourselves, we may end up changing the world.” – Melody Beatie

Gautama the most recent Buddha reflected on this when he wrestled with taking on the role of a “teacher.” There was a conflict in the message, “you only have one life to work on and change,” because a lot of social life revolves around having opinions and the idea of changing others. Most of us, well me anyway, seem to spend a lot of time wishing others would be different. That somehow the key to my happiness and wellbeing relies on others’ ideas and behaviors changing. And, if I spend all my time effort and energy on changing them the world will be a better place. How absolutely delusional of me!

Changing my own perspective and actions teaches me how amazingly difficult it is to change others. I resist my own attempts to change, and most changes that I notice are not initiated by me, life’s experiences change me. I’m just lucky enough to notice when it happens. (Sometimes.) I find the thing about seeing how I operate, my processes, and the work of changing a process that isn’t working, or is incongruent, takes up a lot of time. Why? Because most of my automatic reactions are conditioned by thousands of years of social interactions. Conditioned reactions, thoughts, concepts, and conclusions that were embedded while learning to speak. Not an easy task to take on, changing that model.

What works for me is noticing when I project and am critical of others. As an example: I might say, “Well, that person needs to quit being so critical.” When noticed, I see that it’s not the other person who needs to look at that, I do. Being critical about someone being critical and their need to not be critical is the problem, not the solution. And It’ s MY problem. Sigh. I find it increasingly important so see my projections and own them. I cannot change you; but I can see my “knowing” what you need to change may be what I need to change in disguise! If I want and need to change the world, I can do so by starting with a mirror.

Bryan Wagner

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