People have the right to change their mind based on new experiences, information and time. Changing your mind is okay. Your attitudes and beliefs about things will likely change numerous times throughout your life, as well as some of your habits. This is natural. In fact, if you never changed your mind about anything outside of your first experience with it, there would be a variety of issues. These issues could have physical, psychological, and social impacts. Changing your mind and learning new things is fundamental to the human experience.
It is entirely possible that you have made your mind up about something before you even knew anything about it or had the chance to fully understand it. As an example, in my freshman year of college, around the time when Black Lives Matter was gaining traction, I wrote a status on Facebook saying that “All Lives Matter.” However, I did not fully understand the BLM movement, or even understand the full implications of what “All Lives Matter” meant. I’ll admit it: I had no idea what I was talking about. Yet I still decided to comment on it. I regret having said it to this day because my view has changed. However, despite my embarrassment, I frequently share it as an example because it shows that someone’s mind can change, and should change with new or additional information and experience.
I share this example because it is a classic case of heuristics and biases in action. It also shows that if we never changed our minds, it would be problematic. It is important to recognize the science behind decision making, because whether we want to admit it or not, we do not always make conscious, rational decisions or judgements. With a better understanding of our own minds, we can.
Heuristics are rules that people use, often unconsciously, to form judgements and opinions, and to make decisions. They have been described as mental shortcuts that we humans use. Heuristics usually guide automatic, intuitive judgments, but can also be used deliberately to make decisions that are based on limited information.
Biases are simply a systematic pattern of deviation from the norm or rationality in judgment. Most are familiar with bias at a basic level, and understand that people may make judgements irrationally. It can be as simple as someone claiming that one brand of peanut butter is better than another and refusing to eat any other brand, despite the fact that the brands may have the exact same ingredients. Logically, it should not matter, but for some reason they have an attachment to the one brand. Some people are like this with their opinions. They simply do not want to let go of them, regardless of what facts may say.
You may ask what is the difference between genuinely updating your opinions or judgements and changing them to appeal to or manipulate others? People are generally aware of what is pandering and what is not. However, in the case of public figures and politicians, we often have a harder time believing that they have changed their opinions and behaviors. Often, we have our finger on the trigger to accuse them of flip-flopping on an issue. What people seem to forget is that people of higher social status have a responsibility as opinion leaders. Opinion leaders are people that have a major influence on the people around them. Additionally, many of their statements on issues are already prepared and rehearsed for consistency. Of course, not all politicians are aware of this responsibility and not all care.
William Bradshaw, a contributor for the Huffington Post stated in 2012,
“I would be very skeptical of the candidate who is so stubborn, bull-headed, or ill-informed that he or she consistently refuses to consider important issues from a new point of view or to enter into civilized discussion and debate about matters at hand.” I cited in a previous article that former U.S. Senator Harry Reid genuinely changed his mind about birthright citizenship. That is not a flip-flop, that is a changing of opinion and there is a difference. He saw a new point of view and he changed his stance on the issue. I expect this from our elected officials, and hope that individuals do the same. However, I understand that this may be wishful thinking, given the current political climate. The best we can do is continually check ourselves for our own biases and try to remain open minded.
A part of being open-minded is knowing the difference between facts and opinions.
The truth is, some of us have illogical or unfactual reasons for views that we have. Sometimes our views are not based on facts, they are based on feelings. In this case, admit that your viewpoints are supported by your feelings, beliefs or values. If you cannot admit that you are wrong when presented with facts, then do not act like facts will change your mind if presented. Everyone is entitled to their feelings, but this does not mean that we can just make up facts to make ourselves feel better and expect to get away with it.
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