The Most Liberating Realization in the World

I think this might be the most liberating realization in the world: I cannot change other people.

I cannot change other people’s behaviours

I cannot change other people’s minds.

I cannot change other people’s values, hopes, and dreams.

Other people’s errors and misbehaviour is a category of problem I cannot resolve, and as such it does not warrant the unregulated investment of my emotional resources.

Sure, I can try to coerce people to my way of thinking and doing things. I can create stratagems to influence them. I can incentivize certain behaviours and punish other actions. I can be passive-aggressive or threatening. I can nudge. I can bribe, guilt, and shame. I can do everything I can to ‘teach them a lesson’ about their errors. But at the end of all my struggles, it turns out that other people are remarkably like me: they want to make up their own mind about things, and the last thing they want is for someone else to do it for them.

Suppose, hypothetically, that all the energy I expend trying to change other people is a monumental waste of my time. All my effort to enlighten, convert, and fix others — just a big, extravagant squandering of my energy. Why do I take it upon myself to be the architect and enforcer of the ‘correct mould’ to which others must conform? Why do I even want the responsibility of assuming myself to be the archetype and definitive model of humanity?

How much life will I waste seeking to turn my partner, friends, and children into ideological carbon copies of myself? When they do not cooperate with my design, I resort to leveraging my approval and affection. I withhold acceptance. I exclude and slander. All this because other people fail to meet my expectations, realized or latent.

This operation turns out to be a daunting task. When the final standard is me, other people are worryingly incompetent. They chronically believe bad sources and unfounded ideas. They fall in love with the wrong people. They listen to the wrong advice. They say inappropriate things. It takes extraordinary work to convince all the people in my life how misguided they are all the time.

Is the point of human existence on Earth to wake up each day with the mission to ‘fix’ other people? Is this really what I want to do with this one life I have to live?

The lifelong occupation of trying to bring the rest of the world into alignment with my vision is a fool’s game. When does it stop? How many of the world’s inhabitants must I proselytize with my principles before I can sleep at night? How many relationships will I alienate or abandon when others fail to think, act, and talk within the parameters of my defined standards?

The sooner I abandon the cause of changing other people, the sooner I begin my own walk to freedom. This is one of the most liberating realization in the world: I cannot change other people. The only way to love another is to accept them for who they are, not who I have concocted in my head that they should become.


Cite this page:
Shelley, James. (2020[2016]). 'The Most Liberating Realization in the World' (in Simplicity Praxis). Originally published on September 3, 2016. Last modified on July 27, 2020 (document revision #3). Accessed on October 26, 2020. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permalink: https://jamesshelley.com?p=16396
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