I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this phenomenon where we have started putting labels on our qualities — good and bad — and declaring that these things are parts of our identities to which others must adjust in the interest of “accepting us for how we really are”. I’m all for accepting everyone as they are and embracing our differences, but we all have things about ourselves which hold us back. We have flaws. We have habits and views which prevent us from forming meaningful relationships, achieving our goals, or valuing ourselves the way we want others to do.
Shouldn’t we strive to change those things?
I think if there is such thing as a soul, it comprises those things about us which are unchangeable or nearly so, those beliefs and ways of thinking which make up our very cores. Everything outside that, anything which isn’t truly part of our soul, is changeable with the proper tools and efforts. It may not be easy, it may not be comfortable, but it’s possible.
So all those things we say are just the way we are, the behaviors and qualities the rest of the world just needs to learn to live with… If you used those qualities to describe your soul, would that be a description of your deepest self with which you’d be comfortable? On the other hand, if we acknowledge that those things are qualities and behaviors we choose not to change, what would that mean?
I actually have a difficult time naming things about myself which I think are rooted soul-deep in the sense that I would be hard pressed to change them. I used to think that there were qualities about myself which were just part of my identity. I was always described as shy and reserved, especially when around people I didn’t know extremely well. I always had a need to know why things were the way they were, and I believed that there were hard rules for how everything was supposed to work. But it turns out those things are not unchangeable. In the past twenty years I’ve slowly overcome those fears and beliefs which kept me from reaching out and taking chances, calling attention to myself and engaging strangers. I’ve questioned most of the things I thought I knew about life and reality. I’ve experienced different cultures and ways of living and actually opened my mind to the idea that what I’ve always believed might be wrong.
I believe I am, in significant ways, a different person than I was two decades ago, and not just because I’m older. What wisdom I have is not a natural side effect of age. It is hard earned, the changes I’ve made to my life (and continue to work towards) deliberate and undertaken with purpose. I think I’m a better person, a more flexible and functional person, than I used to be. I count it as an accomplishment that I’ve been able to look critically at myself, pick out things I do and think which hold me back from doing the things I want with my life, and set about trying to change those things. If I were to describe myself now, I’d not talk about whether I’m shy or not or what my basic beliefs about my place in the universe are. Instead I’d talk about my commitment to improving myself and helping elevate those around me, and still I’d say those things aren’t unchangeable parts of myself.
They are, however, parts of myself I don’t want to change. And in that sense, they are part of my soul. They become unchangeable in the sense that I defend them and protect them actively. I ask those around me to adjust to those qualities and accept them. I declare them permanent and fundamental. I believe we can reshape our souls if we really want to. We can work on changing ourselves, starting with the surface and moving ever deeper, until we’re tinkering with the heart of who we are. And furthermore, we should.