Do people really change?
Written by: Seada Karalic
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Do people really change?
We often wonder if we’re capable of changing our unpleasant behaviors. As I sit and reflect on my behavior, I recall moments when I let anger take the wheel. After an argument with a close friend, I struggled to understand their perspective on matters pertaining to our heated conversation. My anger was more intense than I had ever felt. A long and dreadful 18-hours passed before I was calm and collected again. Devastated by my own temper, I realized, “Below this ferocious exterior, I felt a sense of entitlement when I was hurt. When I was angry, my thoughts instantaneously jumped towards seeking revenge because my subconscious had the egotistical idea that I deserved to project my inner pain on whomever I believed was deserving of it, even if their wrong action was insignificant.” Such thoughts were self-destructive; chaos and pain resulted from them. After too many instances of resorting to anger to make sense of my pain, I consciously began my journey of self-awareness. Through reflection, I began to make a change.
Surat Al Qiyammah states:
بَلِ الْإِنْسَانُ عَلَى نَفْسِهِ بَصِيرَةٌ • وَلَوْ أَلْقَى مَعَاذِيرَه
“Man will be informed about himself, though he may put forth his excuses.” 
This verse reinforces the need for reflection on our speech, thoughts, and behavior. A lack of self-awareness increases ego, which blinds us to our own destructive behavior. And an overblown ego makes us refuse to take ownership of our bad actions.
When we lack a process of reflection, we lack the ability to see the ego guiding our behavior and it becomes easier to project our faults onto others and shift the blame onto them. Yet the more we blame others, minimize the issues we struggle with, and rationalize our own poor behavior, the more disconnected from reflection and building self-awareness we become.
Another ayah reminds us:
كُلَّمَا أُلْقِيَ فِيهَا فَوْجٌ سَأَلَهُمْ خَزَنَتُهَا أَلَمْ يَأْتِكُمْ نَذِيرٌ • قَالُوا بَلَىٰ قَدْ جَاءَنَا نَذِيرٌ فَكَذَّبْنَا
“'[D]id there not come to you a warner? They will reply [without any excuses and without finding ways to shift their blame to others] “Yes, a warner had come to us but we denied…” 
The verse above explains the condition of some people on the Day of Judgment. God tells us that no matter what excuses we put forth, they will not help us on the day of accountability. Individuals will understand that they were given the means to make the right choice, and the simplest of these means is self-reflection.
So what makes change difficult? It could be timing, maturity, age, experience, or a variety of factors that blind one from seeing a reason to change. Self-awareness happens only after an event exposes our vulnerability. This moment may be the result of anything or anyone.
The above ayat illustrate the importance of self-reflection and removing excuses. Completely letting go of excuses can be difficult, but we should aim to lessen the use of them by admitting our faults to ourselves and to God. We should also strive to do better and change our situations in ways that make improvement possible. A prime example of admitting fault without shifting blame was when Adam and Eve (peace and blessings be upon them) ate from the tree that God had made forbidden to them. After making the error, Adam said “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers.” In His wisdom, God planted the seed of guilt within Adam that enabled him to recognize and admit his error. Because they acknowledged their mistake, Adam and Eve were forgiven and, years later, re-admitted to Heaven.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ
“Indeed, God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” 
The promising effects of achieving awareness of our behaviors, words, and thoughts are spiritually rewarding. But there is no room for the self to experience this process of change if we consistently recognize the wrongs of others while ignoring our own faults. In fact, such a compass will turn the mind further away from acknowledging and acting upon our problems.
With these realizations in mind, I’ve found that my personal formula for change is: self-reflection + self-awareness + experimentation with change = success.
Seada and guest Hasna Jarrah
 Surat Al-Qiyammah, verses 14-15.
 Surat Al-Mulk, verses 8-9.
 Surat Al-A’raaf, verse 23.
 Surat Al-Ra’ad, verse 11.