Can People Change?

Can People Change?

Amelia Gayle '23, Writer

“Can people change?” Is a question that often provokes strong responses from either side. Some people adamantly believe that a person is the way they are and they will remain that way for the rest of their life, others rebut with the acknowledgement of education, spiritual awakenings, or general life experiences being sufficient enough to push someone to become a different person. People, in my opinion, can change, but not always for the better. I believe it is impossible to experience life and remain completely stagnant, especially during significant periods of growth such as college, your first relationship, and so on. As a person learns and grows, whether through education or experience, they are constantly changing their perspective of the world, whether they realize it or not.


I don’t belive I have ever returned from summer vacation to find all of my friends to be the same as I left them. Being away from an environment where you spend the majority of the year and separating yourself from your peers for three months often results in a shift in perspective. Perhaps you traveled to a new country and became aware of a completely different way of life, or maybe you took a course in a subject you’d never studied before and learned something new. Regardless, putting yourself in an environment that you would not normally be a part of causes change because you naturally assimilate.


When I was thirteen, I went to China for two weeks and I changed drastically. I went to Shanghai and some rural villages outside of the city. At thirteen, I was still figuring out who I was, which, combined with the complete culture shock I experienced while there, forced me to become more aware of people and cultures other than my own. As obvious as it may sound, eating completely new foods almost every day, meeting people at Dwight Shanghai who have lived vastly different lives than mine, and seeing how people lived in thousand-year-old villages prompted me to reflect on myself and my life.I became acutely aware of the privilege I have of living in a city with electricity and plumbing, of living under a government that allows me to freely express myself, and of eventually working under a market that will allow me to pursue a career of my choice. My time in China was not bad; in fact, I would like to return and see more of the country; it was just different, and when I returned to New York City, I felt entirely different. I felt more inclined to branch out and meet new people, to educate myself on different cultures and countries, and to learn about history.


When people discuss change, I believe the first question that comes to mind is, “Can someone change after cheating on their partner?” I don’t like this being used as a starting point for a conversation about change because each person and each relationship is unique;  the motivations of someone cheating on their partner will always be different. The feelings of distrust, confusion, and anxiety that accompany discovering you’ve been cheated on are very real, and it’s all too easy to lash out at your partner, telling them how they’re a horrible evil person and how you hope they will never be happy again. However, I believe it is critical to understand how age and maturity play a role. When a sixteen-year-old has never been in a relationship, is unsure of what they want, is confused about their sexuality, or whatever the situation is, they may not fully consider what they’re doing. That doesn’t make it right, but it also doesn’t make them a bad person in general. According to what I’ve seen and experienced, being confronted for cheating has a profound impact on the perpetrator, regardless of how dramatic or mature the confrontation is. What they take away from that interaction will differ. Hopefully, they become acutely aware of how their actions harmed their relationship and work to avoid repeating the pattern in the future. However, it’s entirely possible that they don’t care. This is precisely why I dislike using this conversation as the foundation for discussions about change; every relationship dynamic and person is different, and someone can only change in that context if they make a conscious effort to do so.


Change that occurs unconsciously, in my opinion, is the most interesting type of change. I’ll be scrolling through my camera roll looking for an old photo, and I’ll remember that “era” of my life. As a junior in high school, I discover that I am a completely different person than I was as a sophomore; myself in May is not the same as myself in September. But I don’t realize it until I unintentionally reflect on it. What causes it if I’m not consciously telling myself to change? I believe it is simply living life. My perspective on everything, especially as a teenager, is constantly shifting. I am constantly learning new things, whether it is social things like determining which people are actually my friends versus people who are conditional friends, or more intense things like watching war in Ukraine from my couch. 


I believe that people can change and that it is unrealistic to believe that one person will remain the same for the rest of their lives. This transformation can occur in a variety of ways, whether conscious or unconscious, experiential or educational.