Someone said to me the other day that people don't change... as in "a leopard doesn't change its spots". This is a conversation that has been going on for centuries... Is it possible for a murderer, an alcoholic, a liar, a thief to be "reformed"? Is it a case of genetics and thus people can't change?
Those of you who know me, and know my writings, will know that I don't agree with the viewpoint that one can't change. While genetics do play a part in our physical and behavioral output, we are not the puppets of our genes or of our ancestors'. Nor are we ultimately the result of our upbringing.
Now of course, it is obviously more difficult for people whose families have a propensity to violence, illness, bad nutritional habits, etc. to change. They have bigger hurdles to cross. But does that mean it is impossible? Of course not.
From Violence & Anger to Teaching & Harmony
I read an article by a young man who is now a teacher and who talked about his past propensity for violence and anger. He was a teen who carried a sawed-off shotgun in his backpack. He was a teen who walked around with a grudge on his shoulder. He was a teen who had no social skills. He was a teen who had all the tendencies that might have led him to commit a mass murder. Yet he didn't!
His reflections on the matter, now that he is a teacher and gets to see up close other teens who remind him of who he once was, are worthy of our reflection. He speaks of video games, he speaks of socialization, he speaks of parenting, and he speaks of alternatives and solutions.
He says, "I have another idea beyond important political action. Something positive to think about:
"Get kids outside. Take them out and let them wander around in the woods. Let them canoe across a lake. Let them backpack through a mountain range. Give them a map and compass assignment. Give frustrated youth an opportunity to challenge themselves in the natural world.
"Have you ever heard of a school shooter whose hobbies are kayaking, rock climbing, and fly-fishing? If that seems absurd – and it does seem absurd to me – we might be onto something. I don’t think that those hobbies can create a school shooter. There’s just something about the natural world that defuses anger.
"I know this because the outdoors helped saved my life. An outdoor diversion program for troubled teens started the process when I was sixteen. Camping and hiking and climbing helped me mature further as a nineteen and twenty year old. And now, as the director of a high school outdoor program, one of my student leaders said recently that “the outdoor program saves lives.”
What Will It Take For Change To Take Place?
The first major impetus for change to take place in our lives comes from a desire or willingness to change. And that sometimes comes from the impact of people in our lives that influence us, such as teachers, neighbors, perhaps a friendly shop-keeper, sometimes a sibling, etc. The impetus for change often comes because someone else believes in us, and this gives us the courage and the motivation to try and keep trying to change our ways. And the process of change is definitely an ongoing process.
I am reminded of the alcoholics anonymous creed that basically says that, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. While I don't agree with that, I understand the message as being that you should never let your guard down. If you know you have a propensity to overindulge in alcohol, then it is best if you don't have any. If you know you have a tendency of overindulging in ice cream and you can't seem to manage it and keep it under control, then it is best to not keep big tubs of ice cream in your freezer. If you have a tendency to violent outbursts, then perhaps violent video games are not the training ground you need.
From the Pit to the Mountain Top
There are many examples in the world of people who dragged themselves out of the pit of their genetic propensity, their environment and their upbringing. For those of us who were fortunate enough to have been born and raised in less toxic and non-violent environments, we can count our blessings. And as responsible adults and humans, we can ask ourselves "what can I do to help others who are less fortunate"?
For years organizations have existed where one can volunteer to work with children and teens... One that comes to mind is Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Giving of one's time and one's self is a great thing -- and not just morally, as it also has been shown to increase your health and well-being. Or, if you have kids who are turning to video games to channel their anger, perhaps it's time to organize a hiking outing for the family and invite some of their friends.
I was reminded lately that when my mother took us kids on a summer camping trip, she invited along a playmate our age. It was sometimes a cousin, other times a friend, but always another child, to help distract us perhaps, or just to make the outing more fun for us kids.
From Murder to Making Amends and Helping Others
I'd like to close this article with a video of another young person who turned his life around -- from a life of crime and after spending years in prison for murder -- to working with at-risk kids.
Did you know that the US is the only country in the world that sentences children to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole? Xavier McElrath-Bey received a different sentence and as a result had the chance at hope, a chance at change.
The conclusion or "moral of my story" is that people can and do change and they can and do make a difference. Watch Xavier's video, as he is a great example. He ends his video with these words: "We all have the capacity to change. We just need a chance."
John Lennon wrote "give peace a chance". I would add, give change a chance, and give yourself a chance (or many) to change.
From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age
by Bret Stephenson.
The author explains the basics of rites of passage and offers insight into how to reintroduce these successful practices and traditional understandings into modern family life and programs for youth. He discusses the damaging effects of our youth culture and the negative teen products that are fueled by corporate America and reveals how we can counteract these negative forces by using meaningful rites of passage to create a society with happy and healthy adolescent boys.
About The Author
Marie T. Russell is the founder of InnerSelf Magazine (founded 1985). She also produced and hosted a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1992-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our own inner source of joy and creativity.
Creative Commons 3.0: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Attribute the author: Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com. Link back to the article: This article originally appeared on InnerSelf.com