The Pointless Endeavor on which Many of Us Spend Our Lives

Author Jacob Braude said, “Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand how little chance you have of changing others.” How true this is! And yet we all do it, to one extent or another. I am someone who has spent much of her life on the pointless endeavor of changing other people, attempting to convince them to change their actions or their beliefs.

In general, if someone told you they are considering spending much of their life on a pursuit that almost never leads to success; that almost always serves only to cause frustration, wasted time, and wasted effort; and can damage relationships, would you advise that person to take up that pursuit, or not? That perfectly describes any attempts to change another person. And yet it’s done all the time.

Most people have deeply held beliefs that they want to hold onto, even feel the need to hold onto. These are often in the form of religious and ideological beliefs, but not always. For example, there are people in relationships that believe and act as though their significant other is faithful to them even though all the evidence points otherwise; however, to align their beliefs with the evidence would hurt too much and might inevitably lead to the ruin of their relationship and all the side effects of that (EG., losing possessions, losing their home, money struggles, losing time with their kids, etc). And so they have a lot invested in the lies they tell themselves. Other people might hold certain religious or political views they wouldn’t necessarily hold but for the fact those in their social circles all hold them and they don’t want to lose those relationships or draw criticism.

The proverb “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” generally holds true in life and is supported by science. If you approach somebody aggressively, attitudinally, or condescendingly, they will be much less likely to listen to what you have to say. If you approach somebody kindly, calmly, and unemotionally, and only after first being asked for your viewpoint, they are more likely to be open-minded toward what you have to say.

However, there are those people who will never listen or change. They have too much riding on their beliefs and stances. They have too much to lose by reconsidering them. They live in fear of their carefully-constructed lives being upended if they were to stop “towing the line”. Their identities are tangled up with their beliefs and by giving up those beliefs they believe they’ll be giving up themselves. Attempting to change these people typically only leads to frustration for both parties as well as severed relationships. These are the people with whom it’s better not to share your “pearls of wisdom” unless they ask you (and they very seldom do).

I have spent way too much of my life on the futile endeavor of trying to change other people. I want to save everybody, even people I don’t care much for. My mind immediately starts turning and I start offering solutions when ever anybody approaches me with a problem they’re experiencing. I tend to think if I just use logic and facts that they’ll have to agree with me and “see the light”. However, much more than logic and facts goes into the creation of someone’s opinions and viewpoints. Emotion, peer pressure, fear, and upbringing are very strong forces that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Does this mean you should never try to help? No, it simply means to be more careful with how you spend your finite energy, patience, and time. To realize some people are not ready to hear the truth, not ready to have their “bubbles burst”. And that some people might not ever reach that place. It’s also important to realize it’s not your job to save everybody and that leading by example is preferable to leading with your words.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter! Do you find yourself attempting to change other people? What have been your experiences, and what advice do you have to offer?

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