At the beginning of September my two elder sons went away to school, leaving Pablo, the youngest, living alone at home with his parents. He is, as they say ‘a different person’. We see it ourselves and others comment upon it. With no competition for attention, or food, or time on the Play Station, Pablo has indeed become different. But he hasn’t changed. He is just expressing himself differently. No doubt he will learn and change through this experience, but the immediately observable change is a change in context more than a change in him. He isn’t different. How could he be in the space of a few days?
This makes visible how mistaken our normal way of thinking can be. We find it easier and simpler to treat people as if they were objects to which we attribute stable (or slowly changing) attributes. What Pablo is showing us is that a person is a stream of actions not a thing (in complexity language a ‘dissipative structure’). As such, people are profoundly shaped by context and relationship. Not so much ‘Pablo’ as ‘pablo-ing’. Alan Watts says something rather similar, here (start at ‘Appling’ 1min 15s).
Change the context, change the relationships and you ‘change’ the person. Which changes everything. Something you might want to think about if you are interested in changing some ‘thing’ or someone.