Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Desire to Change Other People Is Toxic

Val Fowler's cookies
Years ago God told me, "John, why are you trying so hard to change other people when you can't even change your own self?" I have come to the freeing conclusion that: I cannot change other people. Only God can. So I can let go of trying to do that.

One result of this insight is that, in our marriage, Linda and I rarely, if ever, "advise" one another. We only do it if requested. This is because unasked-for advice is usually received as criticism. For example, if I saw you today and said, "Did you know that Macy's has some really nice shirts on sale?" you would think, "John doesn't like my shirt!"

If I want your advice I'll ask for it. I do ask people for advice on a variety of things. If the advice is about something personal, I ask people who know me, love me, are themselves vulnerable and open, and trustworthy. If Linda gives me unsolicited advice (like, "Your pant zipper is down") it always comes out of care for me.

The desire to change other people is toxic. I like how Thomas Merton puts it. He writes: "Nothing is more suspicious, in a man who seems holy, than an impatient desire to reform other men. A serious obstacle to recollection is the mania for directing those you have not been asked to reform... Renounce this futile concern with other men's affairs! Pay as little attention as you can to the faults of other people and none at all to their natural defects and eccentricities." (New Seeds of Contemplation, 255)

If God shows you another person's fault it's only so you can pray for them.