What Changes People?

This came in the e-mail from someone on the Albuquerque freecycle list:
I'm looking to add to my book collection! afterall, the only thing that changes you are the people you hang out with and the books you read!!
I wrote back:
Even though I disagree with your quote, I might be willing to give you some books!
What are your interests?
It struck me as evidence of book worship, something I'm tracking down in my spare time. I don't think all cultures worship books to the extent English speakers do, and I'm curious about what the deal is. I'm collecting clues. Since before I can remember, I loved books, but I don't know whether I loved them because others praised me for loving them and I wanted positive regard, or whether the books themselves created the best part of my life. Sometimes when I was older I KNOW the books were an escape from my life and surroundings and school. (I wrote about that realization in Books and Saxophones.)

But this assertion that the only things that change someone are people and books... that doesn't seem remotely true to me. Is it a quote some of you know? Is it thought to be common knowledge by anyone?

Can we brainstorm a list of other things that change people?


Frank Smith repeats the old adage that "you learn from the company you keep" (in The Book of Learning and Forgetting) and extends it to include books as "company," I think.

But certainly people learn from experience.


Hey Sandra—

You probably know this, but one of the essays in Deschooling Our Lives touches on book worship. It’s “The Intimate and The Ultimate” by Vinoba Bhave (sure sounds like an Austin Powers character—“Oh Behave!”). The author is from India. Here’s a quote:

If a man’s house is full of medicine bottles, we infer that the man is probably ill. But if his house is full of books, we conclude that he is intelligent. Surely that is not right? The first rule of health is to take medicine only when it is absolutely necessary. By the same token, the first rule of intelligence ought to be to avoid, so far as possible, burying one’s eyes in books. WE consider medicine bottles to be a sign of a sick body; we out to consider books, whether secular or religious, as the sign of a sick mind!
I always thought that a clean house was a sign of a sick mind—if it’s books, I’m in BAD trouble! :-)

The article has other good stuff too— more than I can comment on now, though. I love books, and live pretty close to the edge of worshiping them, but I sure don’t believe that they are one of the two “things” that have changed me. Yeah, I guess both books and people have shaped me as a person (as have pop tarts and cheeseburgers :-)) but so have other things. Here are some:

***As a college student, I spent 6 months in Germany. I backpacked around Europe, spent Christmas in Paris, and did the usual student stuff. When I got back to the states, I felt like I could do anything. I had not felt that way before. I did read books and interact with people in Europe, but those are not what made me feel invincible.

***Before my oldest child was born, I lost two babies. My first was stillborn at 39 weeks. I miscarried my second 5 months later at 9 weeks. That changed me. Yes, these babies were people, but I didn’t “hang out” with them in the sense that the freecycle poster meant. The experience changed me.

***Living in Japan as a military family member has changed me. Not because I hang out with military or non-military people, but since we don’t live on the base, my day-to-day life is lived in Japanese society. Since I speak only minimal Japanese and don’t read it at all, I’m living as a functional illiterate here. I’ve definitely changed.

Okay—my brain is stormed out. Thanks for the mental exercise!

(who struggles with trying to learn the two phonetic alphabets in Japanese and so far can recognize the words for “beer” and “baseball” Go figure! :-). )

First thing that came to mine was illness. I think any life- threatening illness would change a person. My most recent experience was my kids contracting Pertussis last year. Ds developed a nasty habit cough, undiagnosed at the time, which required nearly total bed rest until we figured out what it was and beat it. Weeks of no diagnosis, isolation and maybe too much introspection triggered exteme anxieties about lots of schoolish things we'd been having him do. After Pertussis we made the ultimate turn around into what some would call radical unschooling! What a "blessing" as some, but not usually me, would say, Pertussis was in our lives!

(Is there a less spiritual way of getting across the idea that some event, seemingly out of one's control, caused a positive change?)

This is a good one that I hadn't thought of. I was in a doctoral program when I found out I had thyroid cancer. Soon after the surgery and recovery I dropped out of the program, moved to a new city and my dh and I decided it was time to start our family. I wouldn't have these two wonderful kids without that decision to start a family then. It may have been 5-10 years before we would decide to have kids if I had gotten that PhD.


"Can we brainstorm a list of other things that change people?"

Well, two that immediately come to my mind are school and money........


Lots of things within the broader category of nature change me. Other living things change me. My cat, Sasha, certainly does -- through my own home monitoring, I have discovered that having her curl up in my lap can lower my systolic blood pressure by 20 points within just 3 minutes (and I don't even have high blood pressure). Obviously an intense experience with various forces of nature, like tornadoes, floods and hurricanes, can change people dramatically. Not only by the change it creates when it damages their physical surroundings, but it quite often changes them emotionally as well. Even experiencing the simple beauty of a sunset changes me when I am open to it.

We're looking forward to a Mother's Day weekend of severe weather potential here in Oklahoma -- so I'm hoping I don't have to face too much change in the next few days!


I agree that relationships with animals can change a person. Think about those programs for inmates who train dogs for adoption or even (I think I heard this) for helping humans like seeing eye dogs. I can also say that my life changed when I decided to study animal behavior and spent a lot of time in nature.


1. Something that changed me big time was becoming a foster parent. It taught me not to look at life through the eyes of a typical homeschool mom anymore. Has taught me to appreciate my parents, and to not take our imperfect, quirky family for granted. Has taught me to be really happy with small changes and steps forward.

2. Becoming real friends with our parish nun, an older lady with Parkinsons disease with a wonderful outlook and great sense of humor. She has really taught me contentment in my daily life and simple things.

3. Although I have been slacking lately, Yoga and deep breathing have changed me too.

4. Prayer, and meditation.

Nancy B.

With my first pregnancy I began to pay attention to my body in a way I never had before. I started making all kinds of connections between my actions and the way my body responded. I gained a new awareness that very much changed me.

When I stood on the beach at the ocean for the first time, I felt changed. All the pictures, paintings, and movies had not prepared me for actually BEING there.


I had that experience too. I was seventeen, and I was on a small beach in southern California just after sunset. I was disappointed to get there too late to see well, but the probably helped with the sensations I did have. There was a smell and a feel to the ground that no description or movie could've hinted at. The "live" water I had been in before was rivers (ICY, rocky mountain streams, and the Rio Grande which is cold and rocky where I grew up) and small lakes (kind of a alive, but not in such a healthy way).

A person took me there, but I didn't get my first experience of the ocean from that person.


Water seems to have a 'something' to it for many - maybe especially women, I don't know. I remember vividly being on a beach in southern France as the sun set on my birthday and it was almost 17 yrs ago - the birds, the wet sand smell, a man riding his horse along the beach...mmm I remember experiencing lots of things, the Alps, the Mississippi River, lots of stuff but some of the deepest are large, living waters (grew up in NJ so there's lots of ocean scents, sounds, sensations tucked away).

Deb (fairy_of_moods)

More on Books:
"Do Unschoolers Use Books?"
Books Unschoolers Can Use
Books by John Holt (listed/linked at the bottom, a review up top)
Book Worship (concerning TV/Video)
Silent Reading and other Oddities of English

And this "change" of which we speak, do we really mean learning? Or spiritual growth?