Monday, November 20, 2017

All Wise People Change Their Minds

"Discovering truth will make me free." ~Mister Rogers

One of my mother's favorite sayings is "All wise people change their minds." One of my father's is "I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken."

I'd like to think of myself as a wise man, one who stands willing, should that be where the evidence leads me, to change my mind. Indeed, that is the kind of world I'd choose to live in, where people of goodwill come together in the spirit of democracy, respectfully laying out their arguments in the hues of logos, pathos, and ethos, then going home persuaded or not. Sadly, that's not how it works for me most of the time. More often than not I find myself clinging to my position until the bitter end, more interested in the moment with winning than discovering truth. If I'm going to change my mind, it's typically only later, often days or weeks later, after much hashing and re-hashing of things that I'm able to set my ego aside and accept the new truth.

To be honest, I've become pretty good at letting go when it comes to day-to-day things. I feel like I'm forever admitting my errors around the school because I deploy at least one, if not both, of my parents' proverbs daily. In fact, I tend to make something of a show of it, saying things like, "I was sure wrong about that!" or "You were right, I was wrong" or "You taught me something today!" I want the children to see me being the wise person, deferring to truth, even when it means admitting I was wrong, or perhaps especially when it means that.

The ability to allow oneself to be persuaded isn't one we talk about a lot, but if our grand experiment in self-government is going to work, it's a skill we must develop, even if it's a lot easier said than done. We've not evolved to be easily persuaded, even the youngest child, typically relying heavily upon emotional arguments, digs in her heels when confronted with inconvenient truths. Even the oldest pensioner resists truth that challenges what he already knows. We go through life knowing what we know, seeking out information that supports what we already know, and ignoring evidence to the contrary. It's called "confirmation bias." If democracy is going to work, however, we must learn to allow ourselves to be persuaded, and that involves taking the stance of a scientist: proving our theories about life, about what we "know," by trying to prove ourselves wrong, rather than right.

And when it comes to living in a democratic society, the way we do that is to listen to others, not listening to respond, but listening to understand. It's hard for people like me because I'm so conditioned to the need to "win" that I often can only listen in hindsight, days or weeks later, after much hashing and rehashing. But when I do finally come around, it's my responsibility to say so, to celebrate even, because, after all, all wise people change their minds.

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