While we must always be aware that not all change is progress, and not all progress toward a goal (even our own goals) is necessarily good, it is obvious that we all desire a great deal of change in the world and in other people. Many of our efforts and frustrations in life are spent dealing with people and situations that will not change. We may be correct that life would be easier if others would make what we see to be simple or very necessary changes in their lives. However, people do not change easily, and institutions and societies less easily, unless that change is in superficial and faddish and generally unimportant matters.
It is easy to talk about change, but most of that talk is wasted, because the changes we want from others are easy to know and hard to do. It is easy to say, “treat others as you want to be treated,” but not an easy thing to actually go about that, or to know how others want to be treated, or what they see as love and respect. Even when we know exactly what bothers people or what people want, it is not easy to give them. We may know exactly what we want to be, but may not realize that we are the exact opposite way ourselves. All too often we may speak the right words but not practice what we preach, making our preaching of no value because others may see that our behavior does not line up with our ideals, no matter what we may think.
When we see a problem or a situation that is unacceptable, we are often placed in the difficult position of having to model something before someone else responds back with what we are looking for. If we want change, often we have to teach and model that change not merely through instruction, but also through demonstration. Often people may want to change the way they act but simply not know what to do or how to do it. I know this is often true for me, and I see others struggle too, some more openly and obviously than others. It is tremendous knowing that our example can help other people better their own lives and help them struggle with problems they have been dealing with for a long time. It is likewise gratifying when we are able to learn from others as well.
If, for example, we are in a situation where communication is poor, we have to set a good example of good communication, not letting the poor behavior of others prevent us from doing well ourselves, to the best of our (however modest) abilities. If others are at least somewhat self-examining and reflective, they will (eventually) be able to see the difference between their own actions and the actions of others, and in that contrast might appreciate and distinguish between good and bad communication. The same is true of any other behavior we would wish to model–as both our actions and the reflection of others would be necessary to help encourage change.
This ought to give us a sober reminder of the limits of change. Our ability to influence others is limited by their desire to change. Unless others want to become better, no amount of good examples or teaching or exhortation will make them improve. Sheer stubbornness has frustrated many a well-intentioned effort of change. Yet this is not only because others may not want to change, but also because others may not be aware of the contradiction between ideals and behavior, and may be very sensitive to being treated with respect themselves. It is very difficult to encourage other people to change when you are too busy insulting them openly. Likewise, when people feel personally attacked, they are not generally going to be interested in whether their opponents and enemies have good points, unless they are unusually reflective people–and that is rare.
There are many reasons why change, even necessary change, is so difficult in this world. The biggest reasons for this are probably the lack of personal example and the weaknesses we have in reflecting on ourselves and finding self-knowledge, particularly in the midst of conflict and hostility. Ultimately, if we want change, we have to work on ourselves, and model the behaviors we want to see in others. Even if other people do not change their own behavior, at least we will be better people for it, and sometimes that is the best case scenario in a world where error is rife and where genuine improvement is rare.