What Makes People Change?

I have a story to tell. Back in 1993, I heard that a big blizzard was coming to the area. Instead of staying in my apartment I decided to go out of town to my parents house to ride out the storm. I got there just as the snow started to pick up, and by the time it was done where they lived there were 34 inches of extra snow on the ground.

The problem is that where my parents live, as well as where I live, we already had at least 3 to 5 feet of snow on the ground. Since I was at my parents house, we had to deal with the fact that the driveway had totally filled up with snow about four feet high, which meant my car was totally covered. As a matter of fact the entire driveway was so high that there was no way we could have gotten out to the street if an emergency had happened. This was definitely problematic.

Still, Dad and I had to try. So we went out there with our shovels and we started digging. After three hours we actually made a path that allowed us to make it to the street, but it was so thin that it really couldn’t do us much good. We knew there was no way we were ever going to be able to dig out all that snow on our own. We also knew we didn’t have many options.

But something great happened. The guy across the street from my dad looked over, saw the problem we were having, and came over with one of those super heavy duty snowplows. It took him about an hour, but he was able to clear the entire driveway of snow except for around my car, which Dad and I took care of. We were very thankful that he did that for us, and that was the day we met Doug.

Doug and his family were very nice to us, and we tried to be nice to them. His daughter Mackenzie became a fan of my dad, and he would always talk to her when he saw her outside. Whenever I would visit Doug would pop over and say a few words to me, but I never really got to know him all that well. However, the day my dad passed away, as he was being driven to the hospital in the ambulance, Doug came over and put his arms around me as I cried for the first time since I was nine years old. The next day he said that he would always look out for my mother and make sure that she would be fine.

A couple years later Doug’s life changed. His mother passed away, he got divorced from his wife, and she and his daughter moved away and we’ve never seen them again. I noticed some changes in him as well even though I didn’t see them all that often. I don’t think one ever forgets what it looks like when someone may be doing certain types of drugs, and even though it’d been years since I’d seen it in someone, I knew it was there.

Then at some point some people moved into his house, and I would see these children sitting out on the front step or playing in the driveway. I didn’t get to meet any of them until the day we buried my grandmother, when I had to go over to their house to pick up some flowers that have been delivered to our house, but nobody had been home and they had been left at his house. On that day I met his new wife and one of her three children, and he seemed very happy.

Last Wednesday I went to visit my mother, and after I parked in the driveway something said to me that I should go over and talk to Doug. I still had a bad feeling about things and I wasn’t sure why. But I decided it wasn’t my place to intrude so I didn’t go. Sometimes you just can’t act on the Spidey senses if you know what I mean.

Friday night I got a call from my mother saying that there were a lot of police cars and a couple of ambulances across the street at Doug’s house. She didn’t have any idea what was going on, and she hadn’t seen anybody including the children, but it reminded her of when they took my grandmother to the emergency room.

My mother is not necessarily the nosy type, so she wasn’t about to go outside to find out what was going on. But the next day we found out. Based on the information we have, Doug’s new wife had been stabbed to death and he was charged with second-degree murder. I don’t know if the children saw anything, but at least the children were safe. When I saw his picture in the newspaper I was sad; how had things gone so wrong in this man’s life?

I wonder about the types of things that make people change so drastically. When I met him he seemed to have a very good life. His house was brand new just like my parents house. His daughter at the time was maybe two years old, and his wife was very attractive. He had a very good job as well; it was one of those jobs where if he hit his yearly quota early he could take the rest of the year off, and he had done that for a few years in a row. He seemed to be the nicest guy, always in control if a little crazy.

But strange as it seems, most of us change in some fashion as time goes on. We have certain life events that we end up taking new clues from and altering our perceptions in some way. I know that I’m more sensitive to things both personal and in the world since my dad passed away. I’ll also cry from time to time if something hits me a certain way, and for someone who went 34 years between crying that’s somewhat irksome.

But I’ve retained my integrity, and in some ways I’m less forgiving than I used to be when people violate my three principal mores of loyalty, honesty, and trustworthiness. I like to think that the changes I’ve allowed to be made in my life have not impeded the way I try to treat people. Unfortunately, even though there’s still a trial to come, I know I can’t say the same thing for Doug.

Sometimes relatively good people do bad things that are just unforgivable. In this instance there are three children who don’t have a mother and will have to find their way on their own in life. How do these things happen?

47 thoughts on “What Makes People Change?”

  1. all I can say is wow.. What an intense story. It gave me chills. It is hard to imagine how someone can change like that so drastically.

    1. Tanya, I kind of got chills when I first heard about it. You never expect people you know to go off the edge like this, and yet I wasn’t overly surprised, and I think that’s kind of sad.

  2. Hi, Mitch!
    I do not have an answer for this, as I am left in shock. It comes to the point that your next door neighbor became a murderer. What drove him to do this? Human minds are very unpredictable. But what I remembered while reading your post are the words of a friend of mine: “the man that doesn’t have what to loose is the most dangerous man”. Doug lost his wife when she moved away, she took the kid with her-he was left with nothing. Our lives can drastically change within a split of a second.

    1. Kristina, you nailed it. Without getting too personal, let’s just say that I’ve been through the devastation of having my kids torn away from me. You love your kids so much that when something like that happens, your worldview splinters.

      Anything and I mean ANYTHING can happen after that.


  3. That’s a pretty intense story Mitch. I agree with Kristina, losing too much in life, even when self-imposed, can change people drastically.

    I had a friend that died from an overdose last year after he lost, or threw away, his wife, home and family. I was tough to watch and no amount of reasoning could make him see he was making a huge mistake. He moved to Detroit, about 25 minutes away, and I only seen him once after that before he died. He was a totally different person. I think it was more than the drugs, I think he changed from a chain reaction that he couldn’t stop and just gave up. It’s sad. At least in his case, no one else was physically hurt. His family and friends, including me, are effected though.

    Thanks for sharing that Mitch, it’s a nice break from the last fifteen blogs I read today all talking about the same plugin. lol

    1. Brian, I bet I know which plugin. lol Yeah, I had something like this happen to me years ago as well, and that one freaked me out way more than this one because I was close to her at one point. In a way I hate that it proves that sometimes you just can’t help some people, no matter what you try to do.

  4. It is too complicated matter, Mitch. Personally I think it is related to genetics even there are no evidence in the science. I think in most circumstances it just need something to trigger reaction. I know myself and I am very calm and patient person which is very important part for my job, however in the past for different reasons the “screen” is turning completely dark and honestly I don’t know what I am doing, feel like high blood pressure in my head and high levels of adrenaline, but most of the time this require something major to happen, lie or betrayal.

    About the normal changes and not that normal one, I’ve wrote on your other blog and I wrote that I’ve remembered your advice not to waste energy on fights. Well, 2-3 hours later I did it again, but again it was triggered by something which was hidden from me, from a person which usually used to go straight to the point. Well, thanks to one of my ex-workers which informed me in time, I feel quite happy that the one that have remain working there still respect me.

    1. Carl, total control is tough, but I believe that there are limits all of us have to learn not to cross in our lives. I’ve had many times in my life where I said if I had a gun I’d have shot someone, but then I just made sure I’ve never owned and gun and that takes care of that. People do lose total control, though, and that means something in their minds hasn’t quite figured out what they really wanted to do with their lives, or their lives don’t have the full meaning it needs to. You don’t hear of happy people doing things like that, and it’s so rare that rich people do things as such that when it happens it’s big news. This guy… well, I guess we’ll know more one day; I hope I don’t know anyone else with the capacity to go off like this.

  5. I was stunned while reading your blog Mitch. I don’t have much of advice, but thought I’d say that your post made me an impact and I learned how to value our own self – I’m going through a hard time and need to know that people do sometimes change. It’s too early to give up. People can’t believe it at first, but after a while they will.

  6. There are a lot of lessons in this post, Mitch. One is that we never really know what’s going on behind closed doors. The person we meet in the street in the afternoon may not be the same person who sits in his living room at night. Another is that most people are neither all good nor all bad, but we’re still forced to label a person who ends up doing what Doug did to his new wife. The personality is a complex thing, and what will happen when we mix drug abuse into the equation is anybody’s guess. On that last note, I hope you’re not second-guessing your decision about going over there on Wednesday night. There’s no way to know how that would have turned out. I also hope those kids will be all right.

    1. Charles, on this one I wasn’t second guessing myself. I just had that Spidey sense that something was amiss, and it was one of those times where my mind say “avoid it and move on.” Sometimes we have to listen to that voice that tells us to mind our own business. But I guess it’s always odd when it strikes close to home.

  7. Hi Mitch, this truly is a sad story. I am very sorry to hear of the outcome. However my heart goes out to the little children and I will remember them in my prayers. Mitch I am fairly sure there is one thing you and I will not dispute: We are all imperfect and therefore make mistakes and do things we come to regret. Some we pay dearly for. This brings me to the question: Why do people do bad things?

    The truth is some good people do bad things, not with willful intention, but because of circumstance and sometimes the environment/company they find themselves in which force them to do things they would other wise not do. The use of drugs is one such thing. Most of us would also readily agree that there is a difference between an inadvertent incident causing an accidental injury which may be fatal and an outright premeditated murder. Still any life taken is one too many.

    Without the facts on Doug’s situation you can only assume. However Mitch, this is only my view, but I strongly believe that all mankind is susceptible to wrong thinking, largely because every day we are bombarded with temptations to retaliate to the wrong others do us. We must however remember that the outcome depends on the choice we make. We can do one of two things, dismiss the bad thought quickly or entertain it and allow it to grow.

    These are my thoughts; sorry for the lengthy reply but this one really touch me. Thanks for sharing.

    1. William, I appreciate your thoughts on this. True, all of us are capable, but you know, I’ve always gone by the belief that those who end up actually doing something like this, going over the edge, put themselves into a situation in some fashion. I mean, if this happened last Friday then there was something going on beforehand; no one just one day decides they’re unhappy and does something like this. There may or may not have been signs, but there was trouble brewing. Was it drugs? Were they just unhappy? Who knows. I do know that I’ve always worked on keeping myself away from situations where something really bad could happen. When there was the possibility I always knew to get out of the way and go home. One always needs to be aware of their environment at the time.

      But when you get angry enough to kill someone… you’ve gone way too far.

  8. This post is very true, there’s no permanent in this world except change. People grow up and people learn, but it depends on how they cope up with changes.

  9. Wow Mitch, what a story. When I hear a story like this it makes my mind think how someone with a relatively good life can have it turned upside down and inside out.

    I remember seeing on the news a childhood friend who later in life as an adult killed his grandmother. I used to play at this kids house in Elementary school. You never know with people.

    1. Wow Justin, I bet that freaked you out when you heard about it. Actually this is the second kind of story like this, as I have another friend that made a bad mistake a couple of years ago and killed someone while driving drunk. Wasn’t his normal nature but he got caught up in one of those St. Patrick’s Day things, if you know what I mean. Good guy who did a bad thing, even tried to help, but his mind wasn’t in a state of being able to totally think straight. Now he’s in prison doing his time and he’s changed a bunch of lives in the process, including one that will never be again. As you said you just never know.

  10. There aren’t only good and only bad people, we are both bad and good. Sometimes the bad succeeds to get outside, and then tragedy happens. Some events can trigger the bad within us, and unless we talk our problems out with someone, they won’t disappear.

    1. Interesting point Mia. I think that even talking it out sometimes won’t help, but at least it’s a better option that letting things go too far and end up in crisis.

  11. Hi Mitch,
    You have shared a very inspiring story.Your post gives motivation to many readers and I cant believe how a person change so much but anything could happen in life.

  12. Ok, I donno what happened but I just commented here and something is wrong.

    Anyways, I was talking about the world we live in and how “young we are” in terms of civilization. We have much to learn in terms of understanding our fellow man in society.
    I’m kinnda rambling, I think I’ve made better sense in my first comment though…

    1. I wonder what happened Cristian; you didn’t end up in a spam filter or anything. And what you say is true, compared to everything else we’re still pretty young. We react and kill based on emotions rather than instinct; kind of scary. At the same time we have reason, and often that’s better than instinct. Interesting balance of good and bad things I must say.

  13. Just watch the movie Falling Down with Michael Douglas, it has relevance in these current times as well. It is about someone just going down the wrong path after years of build up.

    Some say that people always had that potential, there were signs, but truthfully we are all shades of gray and morality rubs thin like fabric if enough friction is pushed against it sometimes.

    1. You know Justin, I’d forgotten about that movie. And the thing is that we’ve seen it happen in American history where some guy just one day seems to snap and kills his entire family and sometimes even ends up killing himself. Maybe “normal” isn’t so normal after all; maybe it’s just contained.

  14. One just has to wonder what triggered the poor man into committing such a crime. I could understand, although not condoned, if he offed his ex-wife but not his new wife, especially as she appeared so happy.

    One would think the guy must have been suffering from some sort of depression or something. Man, what a bad situation.

    As to crying, I wouldn’t let that bother you as I get teary eyed watching Touched By An Angel 😉

    Alos, there is are 2 typos in the second paragraph 😉

    1. Sire, I’ve got to keep a better eye on that Dragon software, as I used it to help me write a bunch of posts before I went out of town.

      Yeah, depression, drugs, alcohol… something for sure. He’d definitely changed over the years, and I’m betting his ex-wife is feeling she escaped at the right time.

      Since I’ve never seen Touched By An Angel I’ll be staying away from that one. lol

  15. An interesting post. Tragic story. Your title “What makes people change” I find very interesting. We never really know the whole person do we? Only the context we see them in. We are a complex animal. Bringing different identities to different situations. So the question is did he change or did your opinion of him change?

    1. Both Bill. I saw the changes in him over the last 10 years, and with that my opinion started to change somewhat. Truthfully, if you’re paying attention to someone that changes so much, your opinion should change, as it might save your life. This was sad though.

  16. What a sad tragedy. The poor kids. You never know what’s going on inside someone’s head who’s been through tough times. There’s something to be said about that spidey sense and intuition. Experiences can change you for better or worse. I think which way it goes depends both on a person’s resilience as well as the size of their support network (true friends).

    1. Good stuff Melinda. You know, it’s too bad I can’t call him a friend because he did some nice things for my parents, but I just didn’t get to know him better. For all I know, maybe he had some of this in him before and that’s why his first wife left; just don’t know. But it’s tragic.

  17. I’ve come to realize, over the years, that you can empathize with someone who does something like this, without excusing the behavior – the ultimate wrong choice. There are things that cannot be ignored or excused, no matter how many legitimate excuses there may be for why it happened.

    There was an incident just this week in Cupertino – a single dad who, as near as anyone could tell, was upset over a shift change at work because he wanted to spend more time with his 17 year old daughter, killed three people and wounded others. He was later killed, himself. What did he have left to lose? He may not have seen all the better choices he had available to him when he opened fire; but in picking up a gun, he guaranteed he would lose his daughter, his freedom, and his life. Those things weren’t taken from him by a shift change – HE threw them away. And he knew better: He’d been a huge proponent of non-violence. Talk about people “changing.”

    I think when people feel powerless and hopeless, and can’t see that they ALWAYS have a better choice, they’re at risk – as are those around them. It’s a failure of the imagination, maybe. A lack of courage and faith. Not religious faith – just the faith to know that no matter how rotten today is, tomorrow’s likely to get better.

    1. Great stuff Holly, and another horrible tale of someone who lost his way. You know, I tend to believe that people don’t think of things enough these days and react too quickly because of it. Although I don’t know how to relax, I do know how to contemplate and think things through before acting. I’ve had many times in my life where I thought about the immediate action and instead went a different route; I’m so happy that I continue making those types of correct decisions. Too bad not everyone goes through such a contemplative process.

  18. Hi Mitch,

    There are some things in life that just make no sense … most killings fall into that category. All I know of Doug is what I just read in your post, but I’d venture a guess that this is most likely not a case of a “bad person” showing their true colors; but more likely a series of very bad decisions, leading to a most unfortunate outcome.

    Somewhere along the line Doug got himself into the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong state of mind .. and his wife payed the ultimate price for it.

    As for the question in the title of your post … what makes people change? When we’re talking about changing for the worse, as in this case, I’d have to say that while it’s impossible to know specifics, in a broad sense, it’s very likely that Doug lost his “hope”. Once you can’t see a brighter future, no matter what, somehow the consequences of your actions don’t make nearly as much of an impression as they should.

    1. I like your thinking Todd. “Lost his hope”; man, thay addresses so many things doesn’t it? When we lose hope we can do almost anything bad, can’t we? I always believe that’s the real purpose of friends.

  19. Hi Mitch,

    This is a chilling story. I often wonder what makes people change. I know in some cases, people handle stress and changes so totally different. Well, this certainly held my attention and has me looking at how I react to certain situations.

    Take care,


    1. Evelyn, it’s a horrible story, and it affects a bunch of lives. At the moment Mom says the house just seems like nothing has changed, since cars are still in the driveway, no crime tape, and nothing else has happened except no kids. So weird.

  20. Wow, what a story.

    Did he really change? Maybe that’s why the first wife left. Perhaps his anger/rage/depression etc was always there and just hidden to casual observers.

    1. Ned, I’ve been wondering that a little bit as well. Was there a big change or was that behavior always there? One never knows, and we can’t even say that things seemed happier before because it could have been an act as well. However, I’m not a bad reader of people, so I think things changed in some fashion.

  21. Mental illness. We often look away when we should look deeper. Or should we? Sometimes, no matter how much we may Monday morning quarterback a situation and see places for intervention — we can’t always stop bad things from happening to good people no matter what we do.

    I don’t know why people snap and cross that line. I do know that you can beg, plead, ignore, and holler — and someone who is off-kilter won’t listen to what you say. Some people think that it is part of the illness — but I wonder if some people are just so accustomed to making others walk on eggshells that they begin to think they are above critique.

    I too, have empathy for the children — they lost their mother and their “stepfather” will be jailed. How can they trust again? I always read stories about victims who snapped — and I do understand them. Sometimes, after years of emotional and physical abuse, you see your chance to end it with a finality. Although no one should take another’s life — at least you can empathize with victims. Your story is particularly disturbing — and my guess is that we’ll never know what drove him to the ultimate act of madness.

    1. Thanks for your POV Wendy. I think the part where you say we may never know bothers me the most. I mean, I knew the guy but not well, so I’ll never even try to visit him in prison or any such thing. And I only met one of the kids; never even learned his name. Maybe a lost opportunity to make a difference on my part but truthfully, I’d have never seen the possibility of anything like that occurring so what kind of difference could I have made?

  22. Mitch – powerful, scary, true. Sometimes the people we pass in this life stay in predictable places in our world, and sometimes their unexpected actions rock us and cause us to stop and think – and the questions that makes us ask ourselves always move us in a constructive course. Thank you for sharing this.

  23. You know Mitch, I’ve been angry enough to murder I think… or close enough to it to scare me. I think most of us have if we’re honest.

    If drugs or alcohol were present who knows what I might of done. Back when I was drinking something told me to get rid of two shotguns I had – one was probably a fairly valuable antique. I’ve always been grateful I did.

    And yeah, it’s freaky when it comes that close.

    1. Interesting point Anne. I knew better as well and thus have never owned a weapon of any kind. Just never trusted myself, and it’s probably a good thing. I’m also glad I don’t get that angry anymore; usually that type of thing quells with age, but I guess not always.

  24. That’s an intense story. Who knows what can cause a person to be so generous and kind at one time and then extremely violent at another. There is usually an underlying cause and it may be as simple as, he was diagnosed with a mental illness and for some reason he just quit taking his meds. No matter the reason, it’s the poor children that now suffer.

    1. It was really freaky at the time. It’s possible that it was some kind of mental illness but I think it had more to do with drugs, most specifically cocaine. It’s the kind of thing which always brings the reality back to us that we really don’t know people that well just because we see them every once in a while.

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