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You can change people if they are willing and you are able

June 14th, 2012 Kevin

What’s this post about?

Changing people.

You can’t do that!

If you are right then parents, teachers, trainers, managers, and leaders are out of luck. It means no one ever changed you and you never changed anyone (for better or worse).

You can’t change anyone, they have to change themselves; it’s the norm, okay?

It is a social norm, true. I believe the statement is incorrect. You and I can change people. The norm requires that we spend significant energy convincing others that we were not directly responsible. Instead we must talk about our indirect efforts. If you believe the norm then I bet instead of changing anyone, your role is to hint, suggest, influence, help, try, or maybe-sort-of-kind-of get involved, right?

You make it sound like I don’t care; what’s that about?

Of course you care when you do those things, and these words distance you from the impact you make and the cause you bring about.

I don’t want to come across as arrogant or controlling, do you?

The norm “you can’t change people” can, when we are not mindful, confuse our desire to change others (hopefully for the better) with arrogance or control issues. True, some manipulate and abuse power when they change others. There are also good people, my mother is a great example, who changed people for the better and on purpose. The norm “you can’t change anyone” takes ownership away from my mother’s changes. The norm keeps her at a distance from the changes she made from love and for my better. I am glad my mother changed me.

Your mom didn’t change you, you changed you!

You still believe you can’t change anyone?


Are you someone?


Are you anyone?

I see where you are going but it’s not the same…

If you can’t change anyone and you are someone then you can’t change yourself.

I see your point, and the norm also includes “but yourself” or “they have to change themselves,” right?

These lines are the distant second ideas of the norm; they are afterthoughts.

Are you saying because you can’t change anyone you can’t change yourself?

The social norm “you can’t change anyone” makes it harder to change yourself. We believe these norms and they guide how we behave in our culture; often it’s unconscious guidance.


You can change people if they are willing and you are able.

That’s seems to place the emphasis on willingness and ability, right?


Then we can change ourselves if we are willing and able too, right?


Then we can take responsibility and ownership for changing others?

Yes; and it goes both ways: (1) changes for the better; and (2) changes for the worse too. We have the right to take ownership for both directions of change we cause.

Can you summarize this post?

I ask that you reconsider the notion that “you can’t change anyone.” I know you can. I bet you have. And, I hope you backed your efforts to change others with ownership, ability, and the true desire that the change you make offers a positive and lasting difference. You can say, “You can change anyone if he or she is willing and you are able.” Then you own the effort, you welcome the change, and you place the emphasis on willingness and ability instead of on a lack of agency and a purposeful distance from the decision to change.

So have you changed anyone?

Sure. I know we all have. This is the beauty of being us. We are very social creatures and I believe in my heart we influence and change those we love daily.

Well… I’ll think about it.

Good luck!

Kevin Leahy

Austin, Texas

Email your thoughts: Change@KnowledgeAdvocate.com

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