I've pondered this heady question for a couple decades now. I'm sure I should really leave the question (and the answer) to psychologists and other mental health professionals, but that doesn't stop me from wondering. Can people change in fundamental ways, or only in small, incremental ones?
One of my new guilty pleasures is watching the show "Tabatha Takes Over." I am simultaneously fascinated by and frightened of Tabatha. If you haven't watched the show (or are unfamiliar with Tabatha Coffey), she's a hard-edged Australian chick with a background in the salon industry. She is typically dressed all in black, right down to her impossibly high heels. Initially, the show focused on salon take-overs, where Tabatha would come in, point out to the business owner and staff what they were doing wrong, and whip everyone into shape. She doesn't mince words and although some people find her abrasive, she seems to be very effective in what she does. She has a particular way of holding up a metaphorical mirror to people and causing them to see how their personality flaws, bad habits, and stupid ideas are killing their business.
This year, the show branched out into other types of businesses. In a recent episode, Tabatha descended on a doggie daycare/grooming facility called Barkingham Palace. The business is owned by a couple named Tee and Tania. Although Tee came across as hard-working and well-liked by the staff, Tania was a whole other story. She walked around in sundresses, put on make-up and munched granola in her office, and complained about the smell from the dogs. The staff seemed to despise her. Tabatha sat her down several times and attempted to explain that Tania's management style would be the death of the business.Tania would just sort of sit there blinking back at Tabatha, seemingly unconvinced that she could possibly be the problem.
I kept thinking, "This is her core personality, she cannot change." I mean, sure, someone can change a habit. Put the towels over here instead of over there, because it doesn't make sense to have them over there. The average person can handle putting the towels in a new spot. But if a particular person historically believes they are more important than everyone else (and therefore should not be expected to pick up dog poop along with the rest of the staff), I suspect that sort of trait is hard-wired.
Tania did make some halfhearted attempts to be a better manager but was only modestly successful. At the end of each episode, Tabatha returns to the business in six weeks to see how everyone is faring. On this particular episode, she reluctantly acknowledged that Tania was still Tania and that she (Tabatha) was truly concerned for the future of this business venture. She didn't seem to have a lot of hope for its success. I had to agree with her assessment.
Over the past twenty years or so, I've made a number of changes in my life. My poor husband wisely never says a word as I continue to lose and gain dozens of pounds, over and over again. I changed religions about five and a half years ago. I became a mom seven years ago. I gave up soda. I got involved in a rescue organization and made a whole new group of friends. I changed jobs. I got a tattoo. I got into yoga.
I haven't changed in any fundamental way, though. And it is worth noting that I've had roughly the same haircut since . . . well, since I've had hair. Even when I try something different with it, it still looks approximately the same as my seventh grade yearbook picture. C'est la vie. But back to my point - I am still the same neurotic, sarcastic, animal-loving, clumsy, list-making, liberal, insecure goofball I've always been. There are parts of my personality I'd love to change. I wish I were more tolerant of change in general. I wish I weren't so awkward in social situations. I wish I didn't always have that weird expression in photos. But even Tabatha can't change me. I don't expect to wake up one morning and decide that maybe Fox News isn't that bad after all or that perhaps I should think about playing an organized sport. Nah.
If I stick with my theory that humans can't radically change who they are at the core, I don't know where that leaves reformed skinheads and the like. What about rehabilitation? Can pedophiles be rehabilitated? Or do they just learn to stop acting on their compulsion because society tends to frown on that? What do you think?