A Tiger Doesn’t Change Its Stripes

Posted on in Todd Talks by Todd Johnson

It’s a saying I think we have all heard and a lot of us have muttered at one time or another, but what does it mean, and is there any truth to that meaning?

If I’m being honest, I really don’t like this saying. I generally hear it when someone does someone wrong, and it’s not the first time. That’s when they say something like, “I should have known this was going to happen. A tiger doesn’t change its stripes!” 

At its core, this saying isn’t wrong. A tiger cannot change its stripes. Every tiger has a unique pattern of stripes that are not just on their fur but on their skin as well. These are much like fingerprints and do not change. The saying in question, however, is referring to actions. So, while actions people take can come to define them in the eyes of others around them, people are capable of changing their behaviors. It happens often. People change all the time.

I have a theory that there are three things that change people: time, substantial or life-altering events, and self-motivated change. The first, time, I think is obvious. I am not the same person I was when I was younger. Who is? So many things about people change throughout their lives. Appearance, voice, interests, and certainly what motivates us. You could have coaxed me into doing a lot of silly things for a few dollars when I was a kid. I think this is a major driver for why high school reunions were started. People were curious to see their old classmates and how much they have changed, and not just their appearances. 

The second driver I mentioned is substantial or life-altering events. Maybe it was losing a family member. Perhaps an accident or disease has limited the person’s physical abilities. Or, maybe the individual made a colossal mistake that caused him or her to have to learn a hard lesson. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: a change in behavior. 

Finally, we have what I call self-motivated change. This is probably the rarest and most difficult change of all. This change is permanent and was brought about through self-realization. An example could be people who are not happy with their health or lifestyle, so, one day, they decide to start running. Although they may hate the effort required, they want badly enough to change, so they keep pushing themselves. Eventually, they begin to get healthier, and they like the results, so they keep running. And then they begin to actually like (or even love) running - not just for the health benefits but also because it’s a great stress reliever, and they feel better during and after running. This is just one example. It could be that someone doesn’t communicate feelings well, and he or she wants to change that. So the person works hard and changes his or his behavior.

Other people are going to have a hard time changing if someone else simply tries to tell them that they need to change something about themselves. But saying that they can’t change is wrong. An individual has to want to change his or her behavior and work hard at doing so, but the person can change.