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Change and Control

What you're about to read are my thoughts on a topic and does not imply any criticism of any person, whatsoever. There are a variety of views on this topic, some religiously based and some based on nature. I am aware that people have very strong feelings/beliefs as I do, and are sensitive when they believe someone is judging them about these beliefs. As far as I am able, I shall avoid giving the should/shouldn't pronouncements.

So much for the disclaimer, what am I on about, I hear you wondering?  Have you ever noticed how sometimes a series of unconnected things can direct our thinking? Well the topic that has " bubbled to the surface" so to speak is the topic of what we can and cannot control and or change about ourselves, and to what extent we  can "interfere with nature" to make those changes,

We also need to ask what lies behind our wish to make changes.  I am talking here in specific regard to our bodies and our minds and when there appears to be some conflict between what our minds say about us and what our bodies say about us , what should take precedence?

Recently, our rector preached on the topic of self-control, being fruit of the Spirit. She talked naturally about the need for us to when necessary rein in our impulses. Not eat that third chocolate, not drink that beer, not stay that extra 10 minutes in bed, not play that extra round of Candy Crush., not say exactly what I think about that person who has upset me, not pass on that bit of gossip which might be true but isn't helpful. The examples abound.  On this level, when we rein in our impulses, we are controlling and to some extent changing our thinking and our minds. I believe control and change are on the same spectrum.

Last night I was watching an episode of Glee that was all about "self-acceptance" and what we do to ourselves to change that which we don't like about ourselves or that we perceive (although our perception may be wrong) others don't like about us and thus we want to change so we will be more acceptable to them.

The main song of that episode was Lady Gaga's "Born this way". Some of the words from this song caught my attention:

I'm beautiful in my way,
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way.

There it is: "God makes no mistakes". I find it interesting that Lady Gaga uses the same argument for self-acceptance in terms of sexuality and gender identity, as conservative religious people use to conform to the gender stereotypes that one's body appears to dictate.  I suppose it's what we are supposed to accept about ourselves.

Medical science has advanced so far that a lot can be done now that couldn't have been imagined even a few generations ago.  But  just because an intervention is possible does not mean that it is the right moral thing to do. In the Glee episode I referred to, a Jewish girl was embarrassed by the size of her nose that is part of her DNA. In her thinking "big nose equals ugly, small nose equals pretty" but her musical role-model is Barbara Streisand, who refused to have cosmetic surgery on the grounds that, well she is not going to let popular culture define what is beautiful. Many would applaud Barbara for her stance on this.

Should we therefore not ever change anything about our bodies because we were born that way. Again many conservative religious people, particularly of the Abrahamic faiths would take that line, but they ignore that the mark of the Abrahamic Covenant is a pretty extreme surgical procedure known as a bris or circumcision which many today view as a cruelty on all Jewish boys as a requirement for their inclusion in Jewish society.
So, if it is religiously or culturally acceptable to remove a baby boy's foreskin as sign that he belongs to a particular group, why is it not acceptable to transform a person's penis into a vagina (or visa-versa) to help that person be bodily what they are internally. Or should we not be working on the person's self-perception to be the gender that conforms with  what their body suggests they are. If  a woman born is in a man's body, why do we go to great lengths to change the body, and not , to use a biblical term "renew the mind".

Similarly, I am gay, I have not always been comfortable with that aspect of me, largely because the religion I believe and subscribe to, appeared to condemn homosexuality. Indeed for many years I have prayed that God would change me. I came to a point however where I concluded that this is one thing, inter alia that cannot and more importantly NEED not change.  
I have accepted and embraced my sexuality and though some of my religious beliefs relating to sexuality have radically changed, I still believe in God as I have done throughout my life.

Many of my conservative brothers and sisters would say to me that I need to "renew my mind" and not conform, as they see it, to the pattern of this world by saying that I was born to be gay.

As I said before, medical science is advancing and things are achievable now that would not have been realisable a few generations ago. Doctors can correct a crippling symptom of cerebral palsy that will allow a person to be able to walk where previously they would have had to rely on a wheelchair. They can invent a machine that allows Professor Stephen Hawking to speak and even write books which his degenerative neurological condition would, left to itself have prevented. Medical science allows us to understand people with mental illness and learning disabilities, with Autistic Spectrum conditions, that means that they are accepted, accommodated and included, where in the past, like Prince John, son of Edward VII , people with learning disabilities were hidden away from the public eye. The King and Queen would have argued that they were shielding their son from public eye for his own protection, and indeed in the early part of last century, the world was not a tolerant and understanding society as it is, or is supposedly, now.

As advanced as medical science is, it cannot fix everything. It cannot fix Down's Syndrome. So, instead we show that a person with Downs can live a very happy and productive life. Inclusion of people with learning disabilities and if we can't change the people to fit the world, we change the world to fit and accommodate the people.

I think attitudes in society, towards people who don't conform to what that society regards as the norm, or who deviate significantly from the norm, are probably better than a few decades ago, but still need to improve.

One thing that shapes our self perception is how we are seen and accepted in society. If we sense that our society doesn't accept something that we see in ourselves then we may reject or try to reject that  part of who we are. There are some individuals who will challenge society and will risk  everything to be who they are despite how it is rejected by society. They may win people over or they may be beaten and destroyed.

There are certain things, where societal expectations are good thing and people running against it are rightly criticized. For example, most societies condemn thieves, murderers, rapists. Most people don't want to do any of those things. Then some people rein in the urge to steal kill or rape, because they don't think they would get away with it, but might think about doing.any of those things if they thought they could get away with it.

On the other hand, "society" often gets it wrong in terms of judging people for being different not in terms of behaviour but in terms of being. And so people who are not regarded as normal are regarded as a threat to society and immediately society  seeks to either destroy or exclude such people.  I have been vague about what I mean by society, and deliberately so, as society can represent people collectively in a area , community, or even home. Society can represent a portion of the community or community as a whole.

Societal pressure as to what constitutes "normal" influences the thoughts of individuals as to what the individual regards as normal, and often people develop negative thoughts about aspects of their own existence because they have heard people they look up to and respect either condemn that aspect or themselves. This negative thinking is usually very destructive.

So to sum up then, I have noted that control and change are connected in terms of being ways we respond to situations in our lives. A Bible  verse I have made reference to in this article  Romans 12:2

2 Do not be conformed to this world[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect..
[a] Greek age

One attribute of God that is often referred to in the Abrahamic faiths is that God does not change. He is the same as He ever was and He will remain the same forever. God is faithful and reliable. We know where we are with God. But why change when you are perfect, which of course is another attribute of God.

Humanity is not perfect, and certainly, we are constantly changing and that though it is our desire to change for the better, and changes can take place gradually or more quickly. Some change we have control over, other change is due to actions whether good or bad, of others.  

Three things can change with regard to ourselves: our circumstances, our bodies and our thinking.
  • Circumstances. As I already noted sometimes we can determine our circumstances by the choices we make. Sometimes events over which we have no control suddenly launch us into circumstances that are great or horrendous. People can suddenly find themselves homeless because an accident or the criminal actions of another person has destroyed their home. Suddenly the individual is launched into a crisis that they have no way of sorting out on their own. Conversely, the person might have by chance purchased a lottery ticket that wins the person a fortune they were not anticipating which makes great changes possible that were hitherto only pipe-dreams. Of course we can do a lot to make our circumstances. We can make choices that are either wise or unwise in terms of how we use what we have, including our money, and our time. Shaping our circumstances may also require us to exercise control -- self-control and may also know when we need to ask for help because we cannot manage a situation. If you are unwell, you need the talk to a doctor. If you have financial difficulties, you may need to seek help from debt experts., etc. Don't delay getting help if you need it.
  • Our bodies -- our bodies change in many ways over the years, without us making any specific choice to change them, they go through phases of growth and then through phases of change. If we do not exercise self-control, we may find our bodies change in ways that are not always to our liking or in our best interests. But yes, we can and often do take deliberate actions to change our bodies in small and big ways, in temporary or more permanent ways. Whether it's putting on make-up, or lying on the sunbed to get that "bronzed look", to having a new hair-style. Or, as I alluded to in the article, we may seek more radical intervention to change our appearance, like a " nose job", a face lift, or other bodily enhancements. Why do people do this to themselves? They do not like the way they appear to others? It could be though that people use these outward changes to hide away what they feel ashamed of on the inside. They wear makeup, to make-up a positive winning successful exterior to hide what they are sure people would recoil from if they only knew. This is not only talking about lipstick and mascara, but metaphorical makeup too, and it is not only about women, but men who may use different methods, but for the same purpose. I heard a song on the radio yesterday, "Under the makeup" by a-ha, that is a beautiful love song, saying in effect I want to see the real you. This is the downside of these external things, is that they are a defence mechanism, that isolate the individual, when what is needed is the chance for the real person to be known, and for that real person to be assured that we are all beautiful in our own way.  Our body image is very much more important than some people realise, and we often do not appreciate how very much these things shape a person's self-esteem. People are also a lot more sensitive to off-hand remarks made by others. Included in the body-image is the body-odour issue. Off-hand comments about a person's "stinky feet" may seem innocuous to the person making the comment, can be extremely hurtful to the hearer. . I f someone's body image is causing psychological harm, to what extent do we fix the body, and to what extent do we help the individual with the way they see themselves, and self-acceptance?  That of course all depends on too many factors to address here and is very much something for the individuals and those who are directly involved. But this takes me to the final component -
  • Our minds. -- Descartes said "I think, therefore I am"  -- at the core of our being, that which makes me, me and you, you, is our mind. Our mind is how and what we think. This is not so much about what we know or do not know, but what we think about, and what we believe, and how we make sense of who we are and our existence.  Given that this is at our core, we have to ask: who or what shapes or controls our thinking. Even though we like to claim only we are responsible for our thoughts, it is plain to see that there are very many things that influence our beliefs or worldviews. Initially our thinking is influenced by our parents. Then as we grow we are faced with more and more external influencers. But can we take responsibility for our thinking or are we the sum of the external influencers. Somehow we realise that we have a choice about what we believe and agree. We realise that we like something or don't like something, and we can agree or disagree with someone else. It's hard to know how that awareness takes root, but it does.  It is our thinking, particularly our thinking about ourselves, that defines us and it is, as it were what takes place between our ears, that will determine what others ultimately think about us. It is true that some facile individuals will always judge a book by its cover, and will quickly judge others based on their looks, their race, their gender, etc. but these poor unfortunate beings display a shallowness in their thinking capacity, in that they have a very compartmentalised view of the world that cannot cope with diversity. Sadly such individuals are self limiting as much as they try to limit others. Born this way is a great song, in many respects, but I would like to ask this challenging question to conclude:
Do I Need to stay this way?

Read more: Lady GaGa - Born This Way Lyrics | MetroLyrics


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