Let me ask you a question: can 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. Every time my father gives him another chance, we wonder why he even bothers with the guy. His answer is always the same: “if nobody gives him a chance to change, how can he”.

In recent years, I have 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, 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.

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 two years. It took a quarter of a century, but Boye finally decided to use the chances my father kept giving him.

It has not been easy. He has not suddenly become a saint, but he has been actively working towards improving every aspect of his life in which he was previously failing. He has found a job, and is working hard to keep it. He has stopped hitting his wife, but they still yell at each other sometimes.

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 for a person to start improving the condition of their lives, a few factors must be present.

1. They must admit their faults. Nobody can ever improve in life when they don’t even know they have 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 regret doing wrong, than the possibility of cancelling their bad deeds with good ones.

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 not just for those of us who have done wrong, but also for those who have been wronged. 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.

So, some say the people who have let you down will never change, but I guarantee you that they can improve. All they need are two things: the resolve, and the chance. The resolve must come from them, but the chance must come from you.

My name is Kojo Yankson, and today, I have resolved that as long as you give me the chance, I will keep improving.