December 14th, 2010 10:09 EST
Something Our Parents Forgot to Teach Us
Most of us poor folks began our social education in Kindergarten. Seventy odd years ago pre-school was not an option except for the children of very wealthy parents who were interested in giving their offspring a "head-start" and who were obviously "well-heeled."
That was a term my parents used for well-dressed adults, when sharkskin-tipped Buster Brown oxfords were popular for active kids. Shoe stores had X-ray machines for those customers who wanted to view how well a shoe fit the bones of the foot. That practice is much too dangerous today according to knowledgeable experts.
Kindergarten was the last place to learn to tie your shoelaces when cautious adults believed that it was dangerous for children to leave home with their shoelaces untied. However, the fairy tales read to us in Kindergarten never included the seldom heard, but profoundly practical, advice for any young human who was seeking a new personal relationship. Only recently did I see that bit of advice printed in our daily newspaper: "Relationship Rule #1: Never enter a relationship with someone you hope to change!"
That sound advice my strict parents forgot to teach me! Apparently, neither did the parents of those members of Congress who voted for the invasion of Iraq and for launching the on-going hostilities in Afghanistan. Yet, our security-minded leaders set out for "regime change" in Iraq, and to capture Osama bn Laden whose hideout somewhere in that rough mountain terrain needed to be fumigated for pests and altered for more deserving occupants. "Change" also was the popular rallying cry voiced by the successful candidate for president during the last election.
Change is sought when some dissatisfied group of humans become unhappy with the status quo, a term the Romans used during the Pax Romana, a peaceful period when there was little change in the Roman Empire. No one who is enjoying his or her life want things to change. But sooner or later that insidious idea occurs to some dispirited person that a change would bring more happiness, more prosperity, and more opportunity. Unfortunately, those positive expectations are usually accompanied by all kinds of unanticipated and unintended consequences!
Rule #1 is overlooked by ecstatic lovers, smooth talking U.S. ambassadors, and religious zealots. A change can`t be forced on other humans no matter how much sense it makes. We poorly performing humans are constantly encouraged or enticed to change our habits, our prejudices, our preferences, and our opinions, but how often are the change-makers successful in altering our viewpoints? Only a very "bad" experience with a product induces us to stop buying it and to start looking for a replacement.
In most personal relationships, we usually begin by assuming from the lack of information that the other person thinks as we do unless their body language discourages us. When the stranger happens to agree with us about something, we presume that he might agree with us about many things. Only after many conversations and years of association do we begin to understand what that person actually thinks about something, what his agenda might be, and what he really likes to do in life. Even after years of sharing a home and a lifestyle with a spouse, the other spouse may not be aware of the what his or her partner wants out of the relationship.
Even assuming that one person has good insight into another person`s proclivities and dreams, that person may never come to accept that fact that changing the other person is impossible. Humans tenaciously hold on to what they have been taught to be the truth. Their memories are considered by them infallible when it comes to the "history" that they have experienced. And they initially reject suggestions about changing opinions even when verifiable proof is offered them.
Why change my religion? My loyalty to my political party? My daily newspaper? My favorite alcoholic beverage? My selection of TV entertainment? My doctor or dentist? My way of going to work? My routine of daily life? My week-end amusements? My back-stabbing associates at work? My lousy job? My snoopy neighbors? My good-for-nothing friends?
My spendthrift wife?
There maybe no reason to change anything as long as your relationships are relatively healthy and mostly harmonious. And there`s the catch. Someone out there who deals with you regularly really wants you to change one of your annoying habits, your way of putting everyone down, and your constant complaining about things you can`t change!
"Enough of your political support for gay abortions! Enough of your griping about how much traffic there is every night when you return from work. Enough of asking your spoiled kids to behave, when you know they won`t. And by the way, could you please stop referring to my close friends as silly nincompoops."
People aren`t going to change much as they mature. Consequently, the wisdom of Rule #1. If you have the motivation to change anything in an on-going relationship, think twice, and then think again about how you might go about inducing the other person to change. The only way that works is to change something in your habits that bothers the other party in exchange for his or her agreement to comply with your suggested change. But be prepared to witness a rejection or an annulment of that agreement if the other party feels the agreement is onerous and unfair.
The best solution I have found to ending a personal relationship where compromise about change was impossible, is to sign an agreement when the relationship begins that has a clause which permits a cancellation of the relationship by either party after giving a 30 day notice. A simple private agreement that stipulates: no reason must be provided the other party for the cancellation! After 30 days you are free to look for another relationship where changing the other party is not foremost in your mind.
Remember: if you honestly want to change someone, there is only one person alive that you have the innate power to change, yourself. Think about it. I`m not going to give you any clues how. Any suggestions from strangers are bound to be ignored or rejected.
Chic Hollis lived on four continents, speaks seven languages and had five children, all of which helped him gain a unique perspective on life.