By Chance: Message from the Morning Man

How many times have you heard the expression, "he will change"? Or, "she will grow out of it"? But is this ever true? Do people change?

I have a cousin. Let's call him Boye. Boye is an alcoholic. The worst kind you could possibly imagine. He is trained as a driver and a mechanic, but he can't keep a job for more than a month, because he just can't stay sober. He has a family of his own, but he can't look after them, because he just can't stop drinking. He once sold his sick child's medicine, just so he could buy alcohol.

 My father has been looking after him and cleaning up his mess for over twenty-five years, and we all wonder why. Every time he loses a job, my father helps him to clean up, and get a new one. Months later, Boye falls off the wagon again, does something stupid, and gets fired. This happens without fail every single time.

He beats his wife. He beats his kids. My mother tries to counsel him. He listens quietly until my mum finishes speaking, then he gets up and leaves without a word, comes back in an hour or so, totally sozzled to his eyeballs and walks around the compound insulting my mother until he is removed by security.

Boye has been this way for over twenty-five years. Every time my father gives him another chance, we wonder why he even bothers with the guy. His answer is always the same: "he can't change if he doesn't have the chance".

Growing up and watching Boye drink himself to destruction, I saw no way in which he could ever change, but in recent years, I started to appreciate my father's point of view a bit more. Alcoholism is a disease, but its cure lies in the sufferer's own desire to overcome it. Boye had never desired to overcome it. In fact, he usually argued that he didn't have a drinking problem! So he had never stood a chance of curing it.

But Boye woke up one day last year, looked around him, and was finally hit by the damage and destruction he was causing to the people who loved him. He woke up one day and suddenly found the strength to admit he had a problem. He woke up one day and finally decided he wanted to live. For the first time, he asked my father not for money, but for help to kick his addiction. He has now been sober for almost six months. It took a quarter of a century, but Boye finally decided that he wanted to use the chances my father kept giving him.

It has not been easy, but he has been taking things one day at a time. He has not suddenly become a saint, but he has been actively working towards improving every aspect of his life where he was failing before. He has found a job, and is working hard to keep it. He has stopped hitting his wife, but they do yell at each other sometimes. He has apologised to my mum, but can't quite look her in the eye just yet.

Boye finally decided he wanted a different future from the one he had settled for. Now, if my father had given up on him at any point during his twenty-five year suicide mission, what would Boye have done on that morning when he decided to change? Would he have had anyone to turn to? Would he not have thought there was no place he could go for help, and given up the will to live?

So the question is, can people change? Well, I have a theory. I think people can improve.

Improvement is actually the basic purpose of all living things – especially humans. Everything we do is to improve. We eat to be stronger, we read to be smarter, we work to be richer, exercise to be healthier, we compete to be better, we walk to go further, we talk to get closer, every single thing we do is designed on a cellular genetic level to improve some aspect of our lives. We're either improving, or we're dead. Even then, our hair continues to grow.

But we also do bad things to improve. People steal to gain wealth, they lie to avoid judgement, they cheat to gain pleasure, they rape to gain power, they drink to feel no pain. For a person to stop negative improvement and start positive ones, a few factors must be present.

1. They must admit their faults. Nobody ever improved in life by not knowing they had to.

 2. They must want to change. The energy to do the right thing has to come from within. Nobody else can do it for them. People may want the best for them, but they will never get the best unless they want it for themselves.

3. They need a purpose for improvement. Once a person decides they want to be better, they must have a reason for maintaining that resolve. There is no stronger motivator for those who have done wrong than the possibility of making things right.

4. They must have a chance. Motivation will not go far without opportunity. By giving Boye chance after chance, my father was simply making sure that when he finally found the motivation to be better, there would also be an opportunity for him to be better.

My friends, today's message is for those of us who have been wronged, sometimes repeatedly. When the Bible and the Quran tell us to forgive,  it's not just for our own benefit – so we can have a clear conscience – it's also God's way of giving sinners a path back to redemption. In order to keep that path open, all you have to do is give them another chance.

Some say people never change, but I guarantee you that people can improve. All they need is the resolve, and the chance. The resolve must come from them, but the chance must come from you.

My name is Kojo Yankson, and as long as I have the chance, I'll keep improving.