I have this friend. She was raised in a very limited setting, and has done a lot of changing in the past few years. I’m confident that if the 5 years ago version of her and the current version of her could meet, they would not be able to stand one another or even recognizable as the same person. The 5-years-ago her has died.
Meanwhile… the 5-years-ago me has not. I have become better at some things but not others. I think I’m a little more self-aware and a little less inflammatory than I used to be, and I catch myself when writing something potentially offensive or easy to misinterpret more easily now, after spending a lot of time practising imagining myself as somebody differently fragile. But I haven’t really changed. Recently, I’ve read papers that I wrote when I was 14, things I created when I was 16; and I don’t experience that thing that people normally experience after going away to university, where they see their old writings and go “oh. Oh, wow, I used to suck! I’m so much better now!”
Sometimes it seems I was a better writer when I was a teenager. I was certainly a better poet. I was less constrained and more musical and… less tired, honestly. It seems to me, as I read things I wrote in the past, that the biggest difference between then and now is that now that I have learnt more about the world, I am sadder for it. Now that I know more about the Rwandan genocide, and about Chairman Mao and about the consequences of widespread colonialism, and about extremist Islamic terrorism, and about the widespread nature of spousal abuse… I am just more tired. The world just makes me sadder today than it used to, and I just know more about why it is broken, and more about why fixing it is so hard. I know more about the small, bullshit failures that have led to systematic injustices. I know more about the different ways that people… don’t know things. I know more about how we can fail each other. I know more about why I am wrong.
5-years-ago me wouldn’t find me unrecognizable. I would be a sad but logical conclusion to a given set of priors already present back then. I am now just… who I was then, but with more information, and with less patience for the world and less energy. Exactly who I was then, with a large dosage of disappointment on top.
And… I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I don’t think it is.
I have family members who have expressed the same concern. “Others say they were so stupid when they were young. I was smart when I was young, I feel stupid now (because I am not in as intellectually stimulating a setting as I was then).” It frightens me that somebody over forty years old can have this same problem of mine, this same reaction for so long. There are two possible outcomes here: Either, we’re right (and therefore we don’t NEED to grow as people, so there), or we’re wrong… and also we suck at growing as people.
I find the former less plausible, if more desirable. The latter is the most likely situation, but then… what is one to do?
And how could you tell?
And what if… what if we just can’t change?
…I don’t know.