It’s Ok To Change One’s Mind (We Are Not The Same People We Once Were – I Hope)

People who can change their minds are better people.Those who zealously defend the exact same beliefs over an extended period of time are probably more likely to be demonstrating stubbornness instead of intelligence. I will agree it is possible that they have been correct all along, too, in which case my premise doesn’t apply. Whether we are discussing religion, politics or simply the best way to live one’s life, the barometer to determine our viewpoint should always be realistically flexible rather than unyielding and rigid. (Sidenote: what you might term definitive ‘morality’ isn’t exactly what this refers to.)

Constant change for its own sake is not, however, a good thing. The kind of changing I’m referring to is that of our outlook on ideas, life, and how to live it. If we stick with an ingrained way of doing things simply because we aren’t critically thinking, we are guilty of a different offense.

All the fuss about people changing their viewpoint is nonsense. It might not be opportunistic flip-flopping. Changing one’s mind in the face of evidence or maturity is NOT bad; quite the opposite. It is a positive result of critical thinking. Why are we so trained to be frightened of admitting our old ideas or ways were wrong? We must also allow even those in the public sphere the opportunity to explain their change of heart. I can’t see into their hearts. I can jump to an erroneous conclusion based on my own cynicism but I can’t know with certainty if the change of opinion is authentic. Further, I have no right to doubt another human being because he or she has changed his or her mind, even if they are a paid public servant, a friend, or even a family member.

Were my premise not true, I would be nothing more than a horrible continuation of the insanity that my parents and history dictated. I’ve changed my “certainties” several times over the last few years. Sometimes, it feels as if the sensation of my opinion changing has accelerated.

I know a person who is simply furious with the idea that anyone can fundamentally change his mind about anything important. Likewise, he is upset that he has been unable to adopt new ways of dealing with old problems. He is fiercely rigid in his beliefs – and he is unhappy as a result. Like him, I was damaged by my upbringing. Unlike him, however, I don’t maintain the old ways of thinking about it. The fury he displays at the realization that he no longer can pigeonhole me into a defined set of conclusions is astonishing. He is powerless when trying to confront the idea that smart people can and should change their viewpoint – without apologies. It took me quite a while to attempt to stop rationalizing this person’s crazy, irrational insistence that he had access to special knowledge based on who I once was. He is frozen intellectually. Things that were true for him ten years ago must be held equally true today, despite evidence, circumstances and reality aligning against him. Because he once said it or wrote it, he feels as if it must be his belief today as well, even though he might have grown beyond those ideas.

Just because someone disagrees with abortion when they are 25 doesn’t require them to be against it at 35, or even 26, especially if the person’s life experiences has honestly led the person to change his viewpoint. A person can be atheist and twenty and be religious at thirty. Or vice versa. That’s learning – not flip-flopping.

If you know someone who believed in something 6 months ago, that doesn’t obligate them to believe the same way today. You cannot know with certainty whether their change of mind/heart is real – you can only observe them and take them at their word regarding a change of heart. Your contention that they must not only maintain old beliefs but also explain and justify them to you is absurd and abuses your interpersonal relationships. It’s a hallmark of intellectual dishonesty. A lesson I learned in life is that you are surrounded by family, friends, and acquaintances who have changed their minds about some things – but don’t know how or when to reveal the change of mind and heart to the people around them.

I recommend adopting this as our “new” standard in our personal lives and in politics. Our lives change us as it unfolds. We might have once been bigoted, homophobic, or mistakenly believe that anger is normal. Allow people to gracefully change their mind and make the world a saner place. If you get angry because someone has changed his or her mind, I ask you to examine your motives. It is likely that you are stuck emotionally.

I have updated this entry in part due to the fact that sometimes we discover things that a person said, wrote or did a year ago, ten years ago, or when they were in high school. Like the proverbial river being different each time we wade into it, so too, are we. Speaking on my own behalf, I would cringe at some of the stupidity that I was guilty of when younger. There is no doubt in my mind that just as I look back to my past and wonder “what was I thinking?” that I will similarly look back on today’s beliefs and laugh at my idiocy. While I might be convinced of being right about any number of things today, it is a certainty that I’m dead wrong about many things. Each of us are shuffling through different stages of learning or ignorance. I don’t know about you, but I need to resist judging people on what they said or did in the past. This doesn’t mean discarding reason or even giving everyone a pass; rather, it means that as we learn and change, we are literally different people in the most critical ways.

We should pay attention to what was said and done in the past – but it should not close our minds to our ability to learn, grow, and accept the possibility that the person we judge for past words or deeds is no longer that same person worthy of our disdain. I have a picture somewhere that shows a woman with a picket sign indicating: “My opinions change with new information.” It is our expectation that we will accept new ways of thinking and acting when the old ways have been demonstrated to be destructive or less than compassionate.

As a liberal, I am not a fan of our new senator, Tom Cotton. But the coverage of his writings from his youth gave me pause. Not because of the content, even though I thought his line of reasoning was gibberish. What bothered me about it is that many people vilified him today solely based on what he had written a long time ago. Please note that I’m not arguing whether he STILL believes in what he wrote so long ago. It’s immaterial to my point. My point is that Tom Cotton wrote a lot of things a long time ago that were very controversial. It is my obligation to ask whether he still believes in those things before I launch into a diatribe against him based solely on those previous words. He might have disavowed every single word, exchanged his meritocracy arguments for ones of compassion and social justice. He might have – I don’t know. It’s unfair to him to judge his life in the present for what he said then. He might have learned from his mistakes, made amends, and begun to live his life differently.

I have this opinion because I want the same treatment for myself. We are all learning creatures and usually as we age, time, tragedy, and circumstance opens our eyes to the world.  I’m not the same person I was when I was younger and I’m not the same person I was in 2007. I would want each of you to look closely at my life and honestly appraise whether I’m truly different than I was then. You don’t have to take my word and accept blindly that I’m not the same person. You should use your gift or reason and observation and decide. I find myself all too often convincing myself that people don’t change or that someone who was an ass when younger must still be an ass, or hold the same beliefs. As I’ve aged, people have genuinely surprised me. While most misbehaving or angry people tend to stay the same, some do in fact have a change of heart and behavior. Some prejudiced people or those who think that people are mostly unworthy of admiration or chances in life have independently learned that their previous attitudes and ideas were wrong – and they changed.

Through much of our lives, we seem to be able to drift through without much challenge or circumstances which test our beliefs. At other times, it seems as if life is a barrage of varying levels of self-examination. Whether life throws death, divorce, job changes or new people and ideas at us, some periods in our lives are much more likely to affect how we feel or think about the world.

From an outsider’s perspective, the changes can sometimes seem to be without reason or merit. Although we live in a physical world, the important changes in our lives are being formed in our thoughts and minds, independently.  All of us have mental lines of thought going on in our heads, continuously. Only we know how much events or circumstances have affected us. At times, our thoughts suddenly and noticeably change our behavior.

A relatively minor death of someone we casually know can sometimes evoke a much longer-lasting ripple effect in our life than someone we would regard as closer to us. I might have read or heard a particular phrase or song 98 times and upon hearing it or reading it for the 99th, a floodgate of comprehension might overwhelm me. Some doors are opened even though we don’t recognize them as doors. We like to think that our lives are move evenly distributed – but it doesn’t seem to be true. Development tends to occur in messy lumps throughout my life. It also tends to sneak up behind me, even when I’m fooling myself into believing I’m living an examined life.

The ongoing challenge is to not fight against our own instincts and intellect when our fundamental view of something or someone important has shifted. It leads us to be dishonest with ourselves and those we love. Equally important, we should grant those around us the ability to change their minds or opinions without as much argument. Only the person experiencing the change of heart knows whether the change is authentic. We can make assumptions based on our experiences with another person, but we can’t be certain one way or another, not really.

Sometimes, monumental shifts occur in a very short time. We are trained to resist significant changes to anyone’s behavior or worldviews, more so with those happening in a short time. If you’ve never been friends with Muslims, it might surprise you to discover that they aren’t fundamentally different than all other people. The same is true for Christians – they are comprised of differing people. It’s okay to admit that you’ve judged and generalized all of them incorrectly in your past.

The world is such an incredibly vast, interesting place, full of an assortment of different people. Why is it is so hard to allow people to change not only how they think, but who they are? It’s nice to see people take the blinds off or examine who they are why they are doing it. It’s a luxury that even I forget is mine for the taking.

“It’s not where we’ve been that matters – it matters where we are.” -X

what is over that hill

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