The need to be right about ourselves—past, present, and future—is what drives our yearning for perfect self-knowledge. And it also drives our yearning for something else; perfect self-consistency.
As with complete self- knowledge, we know, in theory, that an unchanging self is not part of the bargain of being human. In fact, sometimes we enthusiastically embrace our mutability. Witness the self-help section of any bookstore, where positive change is promised in glorious abundance. Or head to a different aisle and check out the memoirs, many of which are, in essence, contemporary conversion narratives—accounts of sweeping, identity-altering wrong n ess. The gang member turned youth pastor, the druggy turned yogi, the captain of industry turned stay-at-home dad: these are the literary descendents (albeit in some cases very distant ones) of Augustine’s Confessions.
Similarly, if you leave the bookstore and turn on the TV, you can watch just about any facet of someone’s life—physique, fashion, family dynamics—undergo a dramatic conversion courtesy of a reality series. It’s no accident that these shows and self-help books and transformation memoirs often achieve soaring popularity.
We thrill to stories of life-altering change, we long to believe that such change is possible, and we do believe that it can redeem us.