Our struggle with changing ourselves

Dear Editor,

  Seemingly, there is an inherent yearning residing somewhere within the biological or psychological make-up of humans that’s driving and beckoning us to become better than who we are. We are constantly striving as a species to ax our old, unhealthy, and non-productive habits and practices that are frustratingly inhibiting our forward march and progress. Like a shadow to an object, we are seldomly unaccompanied by the images and forms of what we envision to be our best selves. The change we are desirous of realizing for ourselves keeps us in a never-ending laborious mental march. We are constantly employing rigorous self-discipline to feed essential virtues necessary for reforming ourselves while starving vices that are counter-productive to the change we seek.

  This innate longing that possesses and dwells in us and often commands us to leave our old selves behind and welcome the possibility of being born anew apparently has its origin in man’s fall from grace, and his subsequent odyssey trying to regain paradise lost. We seem unable or rather ill-equipped to erase or undo this impulsive need and powerful will we share to change ourselves and others. But if the possibility of reforming ourselves is an illusion and our mind is tricking us into believing that we are the sole agents of our reformation when in fact we are just passively responding to determinism and fate, then what’s the point of all our mental exertions?

  Who benefits from cleverly persuading us that we are the exclusive initiators and executors of the change we tirelessly seek? Whose agendas, albeit many times a manipulative one, are we serving unaware of the futility of trying to change ourselves in the face of determinism and fate? Who among us can say with any degree of scientific certainty that the possibility of self-change resides exclusively within our domain? Do we enjoy absolute dominion and sovereignty over the all-too-present biological and environmental factors that are constantly influencing the outcomes we are desirous of bringing about?

  The foregoing are some of the many uncertainties we face which have naturally provided a niche for the numerous change movements and their multi-billion-dollar self-help industry. The message that threads through these change movements is that we are the sole most powerful determinants of the spiritual, mental, and material alterations we crave in our lives.

  Many self-change materials purporting to offer road-maps to the change we desperately long for come wrapped in unsuspecting packages lined with carefully written and spoken words filled with pseudo-scientific information. From Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret to Echart Tolle’s The Power of Now and Dwanye Dyer’s podcast we are bombarded with scores of scientifically unverified methods, “new thoughts”, mantras and self-affirmations which excitingly promise self-transformation. But every so often we nevertheless allow ourselves to be duped, succumbing to the superficial messages of these agents of change who are cleverly and subtly more preoccupied with controlling our cognitive maps; what we think. We lazily outsource our thinking to these agents of change, relieving us of the burden to figure things out for ourselves.

  Whenever we fall prey to the persuasive and emotionally rich language of advocates of self-reformation, we fail to critically interrogate what is before us. And usually omitted from the literature of these new thought movements for change are some hard and inflexible truths, one of which is the need for us to first know who we are before attempting to change ourselves. It’s a Sisyphean task to change oneself while being in ignorance of oneself. Self-knowledge is an essential preliminary to self-change. But can we know ourselves? Well, so far, we seem to partially know that we are part reason, part animal, and mostly a collection of particles subject to the laws of chance. So, how then should we embark on our journeys to change ourselves in the face of such conflicting, uncontrollable, and largely unknown aspects of ourselves?

Orlando Patterson