This constancy is partly a good thing. My friend’s toughness is surely an admirable trait and it would be a shame if this part of his personality changed. But the sad thing is that our personal defects seem to be equally resistant to change. Intellectuals, like the two of us, will often deceive ourselves into thinking we have changed for the better when all that really changes is we come up with new, more sophisticated rationalizations for who we are. The measure of real change can be found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Are you really changing? Don’t tell me about the latest realization you have come to. Look for the fruits of the Spirit. Do you manifest more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? If so, great. If not, stop kidding yourself. Most people’s friends and families are not fooled by our self-congratulatory talk, but they tend to go along anyway. Why don’t they puncture these rationalizations more often? Why do they play along? Perhaps it’s because they judge correctly that we “can’t handle the truth,” or putting the same point less dramatically, we just don’t want to listen to unpleasant truths. My family does a pretty good job in holding up a mirror to my faults and I’m thankful for that. Being made aware of your faults doesn’t mean that you will overcome them, but without that awareness real change is virtually impossible. And for reasons that I surely do not understand it seems to me that suffering is another necessary condition for real change. You can learn to talk a better game without any suffering but no genuine change of heart occurs without at least a little cross-carrying.
Even so, however, awareness and suffering are not sufficient to produce change. This is no automatic or mechanical process. Suffering is an inevitable part of human life and part of the mystery of life for me are the ways that suffering opens up opportunities to change. But the fruits of the Spirit only come when we open ourselves up to change. I hope to see my old friend face to face soon and I hope that when we meet both of us will be able to truthfully see some positive change has come from the past thirty years of living. But if not, I hope both of us will have the courage to say so