Why Do We Want To Change People?

By Seema Punwani

Since childhood we have been taught to build and mould. One of the first toys most children play with are building blocks—cheap plastic ones during my time, and fancier—not laced with lead and not made in China—ones for our kids.

Lego was a prized commodity when I was a child. I remember my brother and I had one big Lego set to build a house, which we used creatively to make various other things. Imagination was always put hard to work. Barbie dolls were also special. Customizing the clothes and accessories of dolls was an ever-enticing prospect. Building, moulding, fixing and changing things was a big part of play-time. It grew to be something that came naturally to us. And then stayed with us even as grown-ups.
Now, as handy as these skills are in relation to objects, they can be disastrous when used on humans. Why do we have this inane urge to change others rather than accept them?
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Lets start with our kids. Yes, we love them. Unconditionally. However, you would be lying to yourself if you said that there aren’t things you would want to change in them. I read somewhere that we all have ‘fantasy kids’—our vision and dream of how our kid should be. So in various ways, we try and mould them to be closer to the fantasy kid we have been raising in our heads. And if you turn tables around, kids too love their parents, most of the time unconditionally too. But I can guarantee there are things about me that my son wants to change. There is always a friend’s mum who is ‘far cooler’, ‘way thinner’, ‘much kinder’ than me. Hopefully, it’s not all one person or else, I would surely hate her.

Now, looking at our beloved spouses. My agency in India had done an advertisement campaign years ago for an ice-cream brand. I think it was Vadilal (only Indian kids raised in the India of the 1980s will recognize this name). The headline for the vanilla flavor said: “A good husband is like a good vanilla ice cream—soft, sweet, dependable—and can be garnished anyway you like”. Isn’t this the way many of us treat our men? We like the vanilla, but can’t wait to ply on the garnishes—strawberries, chocolate sauce, M&Ms, butterscotch sauce, maple syrup, sometimes to the extent that these toppings mask the original flavor entirely.

This trait is not restricted to the female species alone. A guy friend once told me that everyone likes their own children—and other people’s wives. So true! A husband with a working wife laments how she has no time for him, whereas the one whose wife is a stay-at-home mom whines that she nags too much as she has ‘no work’.
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Our friends are probably the people we are least likely to change. Guess that’s why friendships last a lifetime. Because we accept them as they are. And they offer us the same privilege. It’s a known fact, but most often ignored. We can change only one person—and that’s ourselves. Everyone else, we need to accept. It’s like booking an all-paid-for-non-refundable holiday. You either enjoy it, or give it up—because money-back is just not an option. We need to fight this impulse to mould and change people. Sometimes, we feel we are doing them a service by trying to improve them but we are doing a disservice—not to them—but to ourselves. Why do we pin our hopes and joys on changing them? Neither of us can change the other. Both of us can change ourselves.

So the next time I have the urge to tell my son that I wished he read more books, I am going to bite my tongue and compliment him on his soccer kick instead. When I feel sad that old friends do not keep in touch like I would like them to, I will pick up the phone and tell them I miss them. If a guy tries to impress me with flattery, I will accept it graciously, instead of looking for ulterior motives.

I will accept people as they are. And if I don’t like what I see, I won’t let them be a part of my life—because life is not a store with a no-return-policy. You do have the power of choice.

About The Author
Seema is a reader first and writer next. Books are an integral part of her existence. When not grappling with marketing strategies at work, or raising a teen at home, she can be found on the beach re-reading a classic novel. A single mother she survives on coffee to get through her days. You can know more about her by clicking Here

This Post Originally Appeared on The Good Men Project

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