Not All Changes Are For The Better

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

An odd week, of moving between the emotional event of a friend’s dying, and returning nightly to intellectual discovery about the influence of the American theoconservatives”1 upon the dreadful event of the post 9/11 bombardment of Iraq – a immoral act I found gut-wrenching at the time and astonishing in this new light.

I will write more about this in future as I ponder and learn some more.

Transformation:  the Switch from Left to Right

Now, I am looking at change.  Several decades earlier these same “theocon”
men had been leaders of the American rebellion supporting racial integration,
lessening the influence of the military-industrial complex and the ultimately
successful protest against the Vietnam war. In the Canadian antiwar movement, I was a disciple and quite active, spending an obligatory several days in jail in Ottawa.

But, in the 40 years since then, these former lefties have shifted to the right, with an emphasis on the need for God to save a society that they now see as corrupt and dissolute, without purpose or moral fibre.

My fascination is with how such a transformation happens.  What’s the rationale?  [Tell me if you have some ideas.]

Another Kind of Transformation

Transformation is always interesting (the hero changes to a brute, gorgeous teenagers to vampires!)

I have at least one friend who doesn’t believe that people ever change (notwithstanding magic).  Maybe in ‘cosmetic’ ways, but not fundamentally. Once self-absorbed, always self-absorbed.  Once a drama queen, always that way.  Well, in some respects, she’s probably right.  I mention that because for the 30 years of
our friendship, I wondered if she was.

Now I think she is and she isn’t.  In this blog, we’ve touched on the changes
that can we’ve learned can occur in the brain (explored by Norman Doidge, M.D.
in The Brain That Changes Itself. 2007).  Yes, once the brain takes on certain patterns governing choices and behaviour, it’s a lot of work to alter the set patterns.  But some key patterns can.  The ones that interfere with our capacity to live life without fear and pain — if a decision is made to try to change, if help is found in identifying the debilitating triggers, and if time allows – they can be altered.  Habits of thought and reaction can change.

This is wonderfully freeing and hopeful.

And in front of my eyes, have been many examples that my friend Peter’s death has brought home to me again.

A Difficult Eulogy

Being asked to provide the keynote eulogy – there will be others, which is significant – I didn’t find it difficult to think of good things about Peter.  He had played a positive role in the community in the supportive housing for which I was responsible as my employment.  He was one of many who contributed to the sense of teamwork and mutual support among staff and tenants.

But before I wrote any words down, his adult child asked to speak with me.  He
was distressed.  He did not have a close relationship with his father.  It was not
a personality issue: it was the sheer weight of history.  This man and his mother had truly suffered at the hands of his father during the prolonged years of Peter’s addiction to alcohol.  He found it hard to bear the laudatory remarks and heartfelt sorrow expressed by Peter’s neighbours.  That just wasn’t the father he hasknown.  Would I be able to present a eulogy that had any kind of balance?



Pete was a graduate of the Dry House program for which I was also responsible (since closed).  He had lived with four other men in a small old house in downtown, for two years.  He told me he loved it there.  A lot of kidding around, companionship, real support from each other in maintaining sobriety, a program based on the original AA approach: classic Twelve Steps plus continual cross-reference to the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament .  He wasn’t a religious man but didn’t feel coerced and it all worked for him and the other men in the house (you had to leave if you slipped).  He remained clean and sober for the rest of his life.

He did change.

There were still flashes of the shadow side.  When threatened, he could lash
out.  But he was able to retreat and apologize and largely avoided being the mean bastard he had been in previous years.  (The story of just about each of the 60 men who moved through the program.)

It’s what some call The Miracle of Recovery.

But it is too late for his child.  Too late for the people he loved and let down

Carl Jung (the Yin/Yang man who understood our universal mixture of light and dark) and Jesus Christ: ways toward understanding Pete’s really significant transformation.  It’s what I’ll try out at the Memorial Service.

Damon Linker; The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. Doubleday, 2006.

Do you think people can change? Is it always a good thing?  Hope  you comment.


1 Comment

Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

One response to “Not All Changes Are For The Better

  1. Wonderful blog. I also wonder what happened to our ‘Hell no, we won’t go’ attitude. For me 9/11 was a wakeup call, America seems not to have taken responsibility for her actions on behalf of her people and the problems escalated. War and revenge were necessary. And there is money and employment in war. I understand that. What I don’t is, why they didn’t and don’t SEEM to question themselves. Us too. You can be angry and want revenge but still see the other persons side. I don’t know that that helps, but its a beginning.
    Why ask God and not ourselves….??? its easier to blame Her when things don’t change, some say ‘It’s God’s will’. I think it’s ours. Mine is. Always.
    I an reading a book by Neale Donald Walsch called When Everything Changes, Change Everything. The first lines are funny, but it is a serious book. I not only believe that we can change but (certainly for myself) MUST. I wonder if your friend ment basic traits. Light and dark sides. Lord knows when my dark side comes out I wonder who she is and when the light side comes out ditto For Peter’s son, his brain was hard wired to fear and anger. The son’s anger justify’s his and his mother’s pain. What do you think? You saw the good side. But you do tend to bring that out in people. He saw and lived the dark. I saw a program last night that stunned me. A woman’s son was killed in a car crash by a young female drunk driver. She got 7 years for man-slaughter. The devastation of the boy’s family was palpable. I was riveted by what happened next. The mother was essentially told by her mother that she should not see her and most definitely not forgive. She did both. At the gathering after (for the camera) I saw, no mother, and the brother was angry that she had forgiven the girl. The mother said and looked it, that in forgiving she felt a great weight lift from her and she felt her son was now closer to her than ever. She made friends with the young woman and began to mentor her. Her family’s reaction is not shown but I would put considerable money on the divisiveness of her action on her own relatives. Having experienced a similar incident my sister and I decided to write a letter to the family of the man who (with a shotgun) murdered my sister to tell them that we knew he was ill and we didn’t blame him. Oddly enough we didn’t blame him. Yet it took me 10 years just to mention it or her name to anyone. Big cities have their uses. Good place to hide…..and to practice change. Maybe that’s why Peter was at GP to find grace and acceptance and to work on self forgiveness. We will never know if he succeeded.
    Drawing these two things together is, in my mind at least, easy. We all want to understood, loved and forgiven. Fair enough. But what are we willing to do to make that possible. I ask myself that regularly. Being as one wag put it ‘the sand in other people’s oyster’. I serve a useful purpose. But I am also the sand in my own oyster.
    Perhaps Peter had to much pain to look at the past. Perhaps the son was unwilling to ‘try’ to forgive…….YET. It ain’t over til it’s over. Maybe not during the eulogy (defences and good manners up) maybe not tomorrow but for HIS own sake the son needs to forgive. I DO TOO. And I need my child’s forgiveness. Don’t most of us?
    Isn’t war, revenge, forgiveness, learning to play nice really all about how much trust and love we have and are capable of giving and or receiving?
    I don’t see much difference between blaming God and opting out of responsibility. I do it all the time. I’m no better or worse than, the Americans, Peter’s son, my child, your child.
    When I was a long haired, bell bottomed wearing drop out I espoused the same causes as you…………only I added religion of all kinds, Today I have thin hair, a doughnut that slips over my bell bottoms, and I don’t blame the gov’t. Not really. We do get the gov’t we deserve. But don’t worry about it, global warming and mass migrations fuel shortages will force us to change……………whether we want to or not. And all the drama in all the world isn’t going to mean a thing when you are fighting for your life in a flooded, starving, dog eat dog or cat (and that may be necessary) world.
    There doesn’t that put the whole thing in perspective. Nothing like a positive spin eh?
    Love your deep thoughts as I love my own.

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