I am, for good or ill, often ridiculously literal. And this tendency makes me kind of irritated by expressions that get thrown around a lot. Sometimes I have to sit and pick at them like burrs until they stop bothering me.
There seems to be a lot of debate about change in the world of cliche. “People change,” but “you can’t change a man,” but “everything changes,” but “people don’t really change who they are,” and “a leopard can’t change its spots,” though no one actually gives a rip about leopards anyway.
The draw of many a romance is grounded in our desire to change men. Whether or not the old bodice-rippers appealed to you personally, the appeal of many of those books was in seeing a brutish man brought to his knees (or maybe to one knee) by the grace of the one woman who could get through to him. Beauty and the Beast, classic for good reason.
One of literature’s most sigh-making moments, when Darcy admits his faults to Lizzie, and tells her how she affected change on him…
“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child, I was taught what was right; but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. (…) Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous.”
At some point recently I was made to read the definition of “catalyst.”
noun 1. Chemistry . a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected. (Dictionary.com)
For some reason, that got me thinking about people, well, characters, and this whole change thing again, because that’s so much like the heroines I read as a kid. (I submit to you that I was probably more warped by reading constant example of man’s inhumanity to man in “classics” than I was by reading romance novels.) The ones who only had to be what they already were to change a man from someone who wanted to use them to someone compelled to care for them, and to save his soul in the process.
To this day I find that idea of “be who you are” very compelling.
I guess the point of these musings was that sometimes I think the “fix a man” concept is seen as a bad way to go now. You can’t change a man. We’ve got to stop encouraging women to delude themselves into thinking they can change men. It’s irresponsible!
Sometimes responsibility is such a drag. Sometimes I just want to read a swoon-worthy escapist fantasy. I ADORE characters who are changed by love. Slap a warning label on it if you must.
CAUTION: Professional shero on fictional course. Do Not Attempt.
But I digress. While big change is difficult and has to come from within, the fact is that we change each other all the time. We are in a constant state of becoming, and our relationships shape that because the people we encounter inspire feelings and thoughts that lead to new decisions and patterns. We are catalysts for changes in others, big and small, in countless interactions, intimate, casual, intellectual, memorable and completely forgettable.
Remember that in your attitude when you’re out and about, because that’s what that whole “be the change” deal is about, yeah?
Anyway, don’t get bogged down on that “you can’t change a man” tripe. Don’t be afraid to show characters inspiring each other to be more than what they are, because it’s one of the great beauties stories have to offer us.