Do People Ever Really Change?

Do People Ever Really Change?

The final episode of the season of AMC’s Mad Men has aired, and many of us who have watched the series have spent some time in reflection on its many observations about human behavior. The main character Don Draper, a premier ad man in New York City during the 1960’s, is such a deeply flawed character, it was often painful for me to watch. But with such wonderful writing, I was compelled to watch hour after hour, as I would read a great novel.

One of the lasting questions of this masterpiece of television is an astute observation about the nature of human development and the possibility of change. Since I am in the business of helping people achieve some measure of self understanding, often leading to attempts at change, I was struck by the perfectly wrought words of one television critic, Matt Zoler Seitz, as he wrote his piece about the finale for the online site, Vulture. In sum, yes, people can change. But it takes more sustained effort and energy than most of us may want to muster. (Hence, our need for help, i.e., psychotherapy.) Here’s the core of his essay. I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

“… Mad Men was never so cynical as to say people are never capable of deep and lasting change, only that it requires more sustained concentration, work, and self-inquiry than most of us can manage. The show’s characters tended to be comfort-driven creatures who didn’t know themselves well enough, or understand psychology deeply enough, to repair the damage done by conditioning and trauma, much less the dedication required to follow through on anything they did figure out.

If anything, the series excelled at showing us how people think they’re moving forward, yet keep ending up in a place that looks eerily familiar…

A lot of epiphanies don’t stick, but one that often does is the realization that other people are in just as much pain as we are at times, and that by reaching out, we momentarily heal ourselves as well as them. Once you’ve learned that lesson, you don’t forget it. It colors all the other problems that you continue to deal with, and suggest solutions to them. Whether you decide to pursue them is, of course, entirely up to you.”

Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture: “Mad Men Understood Human Behavior Better Than Any Show on TV”

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