“A leopard can’t change his spots.”
“A tiger can’t change his stripes.”
“Once a cheater, always a cheater.”
From the moment I learned to walk and understand language, I was fed metaphoric expressions that were supposed to provide the experience of ancient wisdom passed down through generations. Supposedly so that I didn’t have to discover hard truths for myself. These sayings are a culmination of knowledge gathered by generations of people that came before me. They were meant to guide me, direct me, and keep me out of harm’s way–especially harm that would break my heart.
A lot of these sayings are also completely false.
Let me retract some of what I just said…’cause that’s what I do. It’s called being a prepared writer. We are led to believe that these sayings are meant to be taken as collective wisdom and experience meant to guide us in life. Ultimately, however, one may find with a lot of these sayings that they were created by someone that got hurt one too many times. And while that sucks the big one…these sayings reflect the thoughts of bitter and angry people that gave up. Whenever you’re told that “people don’t change”, you should really read between the lines. What the person is saying is “People done did me wrong!!” Because, ultimately, and sometimes without even really trying, people change on a daily basis. The ones that don’t are generally the people that you want to avoid and/or cut out of your life. Well…sometimes even the ones that change need to be given the ole snip-snip, too. Not everyone changes for the better, either.
Of course, “better” is subjective. What one finds to be an improvement, another may find to be diminishing.
What I’ve found in life is that…I don’t know about people, but I know about me. I change on the daily. Uh-huh. That rhymed. (Actually, I’m paraphrasing a poem I once wrote–so I’m plagiarizing myself. Kind of.)
Sometimes it’s something small like I decide that I have a new favorite color. Other days my views change on something significant, like spirituality. Each day I read the news, talk to people, learn new things, forget a few things, try to be a better person (not always successfully), change the way that I treat people and how I let them treat me, change the way I react and behave, try to form opinions and ideas about things I can truly get behind, and examine my belief structures to see if they still fit who I am as a person. I’m not saying that everything I decide is the best decision for everyone, but they work for who I am trying to be as a whole person. Sometimes I fail–but more often than not, I succeed.
The hardest part is that when you change, and you feel good about the changes you are making, some of the people you have loved most in life will not like it. And even if you invite them along on your journey, they may decide that you’re moving away from them. You have to be okay with that.
Life is a journey–as trite as that saying is–and you can only expect to go on it alone. Not that you can’t have company along the way, but your relations can only help to inform and mold who you are. Ultimately, what you do with yourself and your life, your actions, your beliefs, your opinions, your behavior, your ideals…they belong to you and you alone. Family, friends, romantic partners, co-workers, none of them are responsible for you and your happiness. None of them are tasked with the job of making you happy–that’s all on us, kiddos.
When you die–and inevitably, we all do–all of your work and all of your changes to make yourself who you are up until that moment, is for you to take responsibility for and explain. Explain to whom? Your maker maybe. The Void. The Abyss. Oblivion. The Great Spaghetti Monster in the Sky. Whatever you believe, the moment you die, there’s no do-overs or takesy-backsies. Do you want to look up at the all-knowing Infinite Wisdom of the Universe and say “Well, I tried to stay the same person so that I wouldn’t upset so-and-so?” or, “I didn’t change because grandma told me that ‘leopards can’t change their spots’?” Something tells me that The Great Spaghetti Monster in the Sky wouldn’t really appreciate that assessment of how life should be.
So, what’s the point in all of this that I’ve ranted and raved about at length?
Do no harm…but don’t be afraid to change. Don’t be afraid to listen. Don’t be afraid to examine. Don’t be afraid to be alone. Don’t be afraid to invite new people into your life that will help you learn who you want to be–even if they end up hurting you. Get hurt again and again and again. Get knocked down again and again and again. But get back up over and over and over. But never keep yourself from changing–especially if it’s a change that will help you become who you are supposed to be.
I’m only 38-years-old, so I’m still changing. And not everyone is going to like the changes that I make. But, all my changes are done in earnest. I want to be a better person, but I don’t want to be a doormat. I want to help others and make others feel good about themselves, but I won’t sacrifice my happiness, my self-worth, and my dignity in order to do so. Well all deserve to be treated with respect and kindness and we are free to say “no” when we’re met with disrespect or another mistreatment–or just because something doesn’t fit in with where we are going. However, I have to say, I don’t regret one person that has come into my life. They’ve all helped to inform and mold who I am as a person. Nor do I hate any that are no longer in my life. Ninety-nine percent of them are decent people–they’re just no longer on a path that runs parallel to mine. That’s all.
And the best thing about that is–we don’t owe each other explanations or apologies. We came into each other’s lives, taught each other something, and when the road forked, we went our separate ways.
JoJo (the missus) and I talked about this concept recently, of people changing, people entering our lives and people exiting our lives. We both agreed that it can be sad–but it’s part of the journey of life.
The missus and I are pretty freaking brutally honest with each other. We discussed whether or not we thought we would ever get divorced–and we both honestly could only shrug. Being sublimely happy now does not mean that will continue until the day we die. In all honesty, I tell JoJo every day how happy I am that she’s in my life. I hope to be with her until the day I die. But one day, that may change. Or she may decide the same. But we both agreed that we love and respect each other–there’s nothing we don’t know about each other–and we will be honest if that time ever comes. And if it does, we will depart with nothing but continued love and respect for each other. Because, while we know that life is freaking hard, we know that we don’t have to make it harder by being cruel to each other or disrespecting each other.
And maybe that’s the best we can hope for ourselves and others. Respect, kindness, dignity, trust, honesty…and well-wishes and fond memories if our paths diverge.
Until next time…