I'm currently 22, fairly well educated, very opinionated and people often say I remind them of my father. You know what that means? It means I'm really stubborn.
But there's a very important skill that I learned over the years. A skill that people seem to be scared of acquiring. I change my opinion when I need to. There's nothing wrong with changing your opinion but it's somewhat of a tightrope to walk. There's always the fear of being seen as weak or a "flip-flopper", but in this blog post we'll be tackling the question, of when it's right to change your opinion.
Everyone has one as they say. Everyone has something to say about any topic you can think of. Even things they're probably not qualified enough to comment on. But in a free society it's everyone's right to have an opinion. The problem is, people are dynamic. I'm not the same person I was 2 weeks ago, let alone 2 years ago.
The dynamism that makes us human also applies to our thoughts, opinions and beliefs. The problem is, sometimes we get married to our opinions. They become part of our being and we feel personally attacked when people breakdown our opinions. This is a very human reaction. That doesn't mean it's right though.
You have to fight for what you believe in and stand behind your ideals. However, sometimes your ideals are misplaced, or you're just not the same person you were when you first tackled the subject. Take for example the story of Daryl Davis. Mr. Davis, an American musician that just so happens to be black.
Mr. Davis spent years befriending Ku Klux Klan members. Not just regular members either, he befriended and helped turn them into national leaders of the KKK. He would spend time talking to them and getting to know them, he would invite them over to his house to have dinner and converse. Eventually, somewhere down the line, they would turn and leave the klan. These people that are seen as the most hateful and racist people in American history, somehow, somewhere, changed their opinions and left.
It's doubtful, however, that simple conversation on its own was enough to turn over 200 people Davis had helped convert. It took constant exposure to opposing ideas and, in particular, these 'aha' moments where they could be caught in a mental trap.
To give an example that Davis gave in an NPR interview in 2017, Davis was driving around with a klan member that was in a leadership position. The klan member said that all black people are violent because of a gene that made them so. He referenced crime and incarceration statistics to prove his point. Davis had looked at him and said that it can't be true because he never committed a crime, let alone a violent one, in his entire life.
The klan member said that's because his 'latent' violent gene hadn't manifested yet. Davis was obviously awestruck at such a statement. So, he thought for a while and then responded,
"Well, we all know that all white people have a gene within them that makes them a serial killer."
The klan member couldn't understand his reasoning. Davis said, "Name me three black serial killers," and the klan member couldn't name one. Davis then continued, "Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, they're all white! Son, you're a serial killer". The klan member then said, "That's ridiculous! I've never killed anybody in my life!". Davis responded, "Your gene is latent. It hasn't come out yet."
As ridiculous as these opinions might seem to us, to the klan member they were ingrained into his being. It took that kind of chipping away at that idea to bring its craziness to light for him. After this encounter, a mere months later, this leader in the KKK resigned and hung up his robe. He changed his opinion because someone made him think about it at more than a surface level.
Of course it isn't always so easy. To the klan member, his ideas were true through and through. The same is true of everyone in their daily lives. We all walk around with pre-conceived notions of what is and isn't true or just or right. We carry these ideas with us everywhere we go and they become part of what's true of the world for us. However, sometimes, like the klan member, we face ideas that oppose our own. It becomes even scarier when those ideas start to make more sense than the ones we've been carrying for years!
This is when your brain starts to experience this thing called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is, in the most simple terms, when you have two opposing ideas rattling around in your head and they both seem right. You can think of it as almost a betrayal of sorts. Something you've known to be true for so long and then suddenly a different idea pops in that also seems true. It creates an issue, but it's a springboard for growth. It's an opportunity to learn. This is the first step to changing your opinion.
Now, we've discussed how the process of changing your stance begins, but an important question is when you should change your stance. Many people start the process but get bogged down in old ideas and become married to those ideas and opinions, ultimately leading to zero growth. That's not what we want. We want to be able to shift our worldview just as the world shifts and just as we as individuals change due to our environment, acquired knowledge and the simple fact that we are not the same people we were when we originally held those ideas.
Well, the simple answer is that you can change at any time and you should not be afraid to do so. I, myself, have often changed my opinion based on new information or conversations. I change my mind when I put two ideas against each other and they battle it out for supremacy. Obviously, this can be difficult as we have our own biases. So, naturally we'd choose what fits our own personal worldview the best. Here's where other people come in.
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received, is that when you talk to somebody, assume they know something that you don't. I'm a firm believer that you can learn anything from anyone. It takes sincere, honest intentions in conversation. At this point you also have to look at yourself. Are you doing your best to understand other's point of view? Are you being honest with yourself? Or are you simply fighting for fighting's sake? These are all important questions to ask yourself when discussing anything. These are the tools necessary to grow in any context.
Before we finish off, I do want to hammer home the point that changing your opinion does not make you weak, or a traitor or a flip-flopper or anything like that. It takes a lot of courage to look yourself in the mirror and admit that you were wrong. That you no longer hold those beliefs. That you are a better person today than you were yesterday and you'll be an even better person tomorrow. As humans, as flawed beings. We can never be perfect. We can however, always improve.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blogpost are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views of Phryme Magazine.