Can you really change other people?


I hope that answer was simple and concise.

No, we cannot change other people.

HOWEVER … we can heavily influence change in others. We can help others change. We can equip others to make changes for themselves. We can provide tools for, and means of, change. But we can’t actually change others.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop many of us from trying.

Richard Dunagin tells the story of how his kids won four free goldfish at their school carnival …

    So out I went Saturday morning to find an aquarium. The first few I priced ranged from $40 to $70. Then I spotted it — right in the isle: a discarded 10-gallon display tank, complete with gravel and filter — for a mere five bucks. Sold! Of course, it was nasty dirty, but the savings made the two hours of clean-up a breeze.

    Those four fish looked great in their new home, at least for the first day. But by Sunday one had died. Too bad, but three remained. Monday morning revealed a second casualty, and by Monday night a third goldfish had gone belly up.

    We called in an expert, a member of our church who has a 30-gallon tank. It didn’t take him long to discover the problem: I had washed the tank with soap, an absolute no-no. My uninformed efforts had destroyed the very lives I was trying to protect. Sometimes in our zeal to clean up our own lives or the lives of others, we unfortunately use ‘killer soaps’ — condemnation, criticism, nagging, fits of temper. We think we’re doing right but our harsh, self-righteous treatment is more than they can bear.

When we really want to help others change for all the right reasons, and with the right attitude, what can we do to help influence positive change?

The Apostle Paul helps us understand that as mature Christians who are acting in a Christlike manner, we can do this to positively influence others …

“Instead, we will speak the truth in love …” Ephesians 4:15a.

To speak the truth without love is to use a harsh soap and try to scrub someone clean. To speak only love without truth is to enable their ongoing brokenness. But when we speak the truth in love, we make the one real contribution to the change in another person that we’re capable of making.

It’s a good thing to care about others enough that you’re willing to contribute toward their making needed changes in their lives. But how you try to influence that change determines whether you’re really making a positive contribution, or causing more harm than good. Are you speaking the truth, in love, to the people in your life?