I met a new friend today. At least, I think we will be friends.
It was one of those conversations where you just agree to meet up for coffee and before you know it, three hours have passed and you have talked about 5 or 6 different things, and the conversation flows easily from one thing to the next. Those are rare for me, but I love it when they happen.
And one of the things we talked about was how change happens. I have these conversations a lot these days. We look around us and feel like things are bleak and divided, and we wonder if there is any way out. If those who work to oppress others, those who would take rights from others, those who work for their own self-interest even when it hurts others, and we wonder how we get them to change.
My new friend was somewhat cynical. “I think I have given up on their changing,” she said. “I mean, I want to believe they can, but it doesn’t feel like a real possibility”.
I told her I didn’t have enough self-esteem to believe that people can’t change.
She was puzzled. So I explained that I once believed very different things than I do now about… almost everything. I used to be an Evangelical who wanted to save your soul from Hell, and now I’m not. I used to believe God did not love Gay people, and now I don’t believe that. I used to chase money, and now I chase relationships. I used to want to distance myself from the South, and now it’s a core part of my identity.
“But here’s the thing: In every one of those instances, I didn’t change because I accidentally had a change of heart, but because of a relationship I had that caused me to reconsider my position. I changed because who I knew changed, and I changed because my ideology had to follow my relationships. My heart changed, and then waited for my head to catch up.
The Jewish mystic Abraham Heschel said that when it came to God, there were no proofs, but only witnesses. In other words, some things can’t be proven but only experienced. I believe people can change because I have changed. A lot. I can’t prove that people can change, but I am a witness to the fact that they do.
And I don’t believe I’m special. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m not. I’m pretty mundane, actually. And if I can change, as un-special as I am, then pretty much anyone can, given time and the right relationships. Or else I have to assume I’m so special that I think I can change, but they can’t. And I don’t have enough ego for that.
“That is… hopeful. Maybe more hope than I have right now,” she said.
“Oh yeah. It’s hopeful as hell. Because I want things to change. And I believe that the only way things will change is because people change. And if I thought people couldn’t change, then what choice would I have but despair? So I find myself having to choose between hope and despair.
“And I choose hope.”