In many aspects of life, especially politics, it’s seen as a sign of weakness to change one’s mind. While I certainly don’t discount the criticism laid upon politicians whose policy or opinions seem to shift with the wind, or those who pander to whatever group will get them elected, I do think we need to destigmatize changing one’s mind.
When I compare myself now to who I was as a teenager, I’ve changed my mind about a lot of issues. Not everything, of course. I still do think OK Computer is the greatest album of the last thirty years. However, there are many other things that I’ve changed my mind about. My teenage obsession with Preston Manning, for example. I was a regular at Reform Party rallies at the Stampede Corral in Calgary and went door-to-door for my local candidate before I was even old enough to vote. Since then my affinity for the Reform Party has waned considerably, although I still do admire Stockwell Day’s wetsuit. My point here is not about 1990s Canadian politics, but simply that all of us, if we examined our past, have changed our minds. And that is fantastic!
In fact the willingness to change one’s mind is absolutely crucial. Likewise, the willingness of society to accept a sincere change of opinion or heart is equally crucial. There’s a difference between hypocrisy (or inconsistency) and changing one’s mind. It is not hypocritical or inconsistent to change your mind when presented with new information. It’s a sign of strength.
Sadly, many people in many situations are not willing to change their minds. Consider the popular videos (and memes) with the “Change My Mind” guy. You have to wonder if, in a combative and public forum like that, whether either party are actually willing to change their minds. Is that really the purpose of such debates? Doubtful.
People have egos and once we publicly state our opinions on a topic, especially if we’re particularly vocal about it, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever willingly backtrack. Instead of accepting new information and adjusting our opinions accordingly, we become defensive. Our unwillingness to change is made worse by public declarations that we feel we can’t deviate from for fear of the inventible “gotcha” moment that will accompany any changing of mind.
This is a problem at any time or any situation, of course, but I think in our current context, it’s especially important that we leave room for vaccine hesitant people, for example, to have a change of opinion without ridicule. I think it was Pastor Kyle Penner who said we should greet people with a hearty, “Welcome to the party!” (I may be misquoting him here, as he’s a Mennonite pastor and Mennonites don’t party, but the point remains the same.)
As Julia Galef says in her brilliant TED Talk, “we need to learn how to feel proud, instead of ashamed, when we notice we might have been wrong about something.” All of us can contribute to this de-shaming.
Oh, and, yes, I’m willing to declare that if I ever taste a potato and cheese perogy that’s as good as cottage cheese vereniki with schmaunt fat, I will admit I was wrong. I hope you won’t judge me. I hope you’ll say like the father to the prodigal son, “Welcome to the potato perogy party, Andrew! We’ve been waiting for you!”