223 – Changing Others

Changing Others

Living on this planet with other people can be very challenging at times. If you’re like me, sometimes you have a strong difference of opinion with someone, and you end up in an argument and spend a lot of time and energy trying to change the other persons mind. We see this play out on social media as well where people spend a lot of time and energy trying to debate other people to get them to change. Watching this behavior in myself and others, makes me ask the question:

Why do we spend so much time trying to change other people or expecting that other people will change for us?

We know that we cannot change others, but there’s a part of us that wants the world to change for us. Our brain looks for threats and danger outside of ourselves in order to keep us safe. When we’re uncomfortable, it’s challenging to just sit with those things that are uncomfortable so we look for a cause outside of ourselves. Maybe we don’t like what someone else said, or we disagree with their opinion. We think that if the other person would behave or think differently, then we would be happier. Rather than spending our time and energy looking inside and finding what we control in the situation, we try to change what we think is the cause.

The problem is that we misidentify the cause of our distress. We think the cause is someone or something else, but really it comes down to the story that we’re telling ourself. It’s the meaning that we give to what the other person said or did. We take their actions and words and interpret them to suit the narrative that going on in our minds. We spin what they other person says in a negative or positive light depending out our opinion of them.

One of the main reasons that we may try to change other people is that we want others to think like us. Human beings are very social animals and fitting in with others is very important. It’s part of what helps our survival. If there are more people who think like us, then we feel like our worldview is correct, and we feel safer. We feel like we’re part of how the world is supposed to be. When others disagree with us, we may feel like our worldview is under threat, which causes us to feel uncomfortable or even hostile. When it comes to an opinion that we hold very strongly, we may unconsciously feel fear when something comes along and challenges our beliefs. We don’t like the tension and so we try to change the other persons opinion.

I also think as humans we’re all a little lazy, or more to the point, our brains are lazy tries to be efficient. Taking time to figure out where we might be wrong or to figure out the the things we can control takes time and cognitive energy. It also takes energy to actually control the things we can. If we can get someone else to do the work, then we don’t have to. The problem with expecting others to do this kind of work, and to change for us, is that it makes others resentful, and the changes that we need to make don’t happen. Also, in the long run it means a lot more work for us if we expect others to change for us, we have to somehow convince all those other people to change to fit our worldview.

When someone is properly grounded in life, they shouldn’t have to look outside themselves for approval.

— Epictetus

So how do we work with this? How can we get better about recognizing and staying in a place where we don’t need to change other people in order for us to feel happy?

I think the first thing we need to do is ask ourselves why it is important that we change this other person? What do we get if they change their mind? What happens if they don’t? What are you making it mean if this person has a different opinion? What’s the story you’re telling yourself?

I think a lot of this behavior comes from insecurity. When we are insecure, we need others to agree with us in order for us to feel okay with ourselves. Our ego needs that validation in order for us to feel okay.

When we are comfortable with ourselves, we don’t need others to agree with us. Just as we wouldn’t argue with someone over whether 1 + 1 = 2, if we are really secure with ourselves, we would not feel threatened over someone disagreeing with us.

Don’t argue with people nor insist on showing them truth. Maybe it is you who needs to change your mind. Even if you are right you only incur resentment by trying to correct others.

—The Ancient Sage (@theAncientSage)

We also need to consider the fact that we might be the one who is wrong. Just because you think something and have an opinion about something does not mean that you are correct and the other person is not. When we take the time to really consider someone else’s opinion, we may find some problems with the opinion that we are holding. We would just realize that we had bad information and could adjust accordingly.

Lastly, we need to recognize that when we expect others to change for us, we give our power away because we are basing our comfort or happiness upon someone else changing for us. When we expect others to change for us, we are placing ourselves in the role of a victim. We’re unhappy and won’t feel happy until someone else changes and does what we want them to. Not a good way to to find equanimity.

Learning to let go of our ego and of our need to have other people think like we do can reduce a lot of stress in our lives. When we can listen to and be curious about other peoples opinions without taking it to mean that we’re wrong if we don’t agree with them. We can expand our worldview while at the same time preserve our equanimity.

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