You're Allowed To Change Your Mind
[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
Sometimes, politicians do that thing where they decide that something they once believed is no longer worth believing. A good example is Hillary Clinton changing her views on same sex marriage. Or rather, "evolving" her views, as some like to say. The problem with this specific example is that no one is sure whether her views actually changed or whether she was bending to political or societal pressure. I'm inclined to believe it doesn't necessarily matter why she changed her mind, so long as her new views/policies support gay rights.
Politicians have been "changing their minds" since the beginning of politics. Hundreds of politicians have changed party lines, included Hannibal Hamlin (Abe Lincoln's first VP), John Connally, Mike Pence, etc., who all swung Democrat to Republican. Conversely, Henry George (author of Progress and Poverty), Jay Rockefeller, Hillary Clinton, Harley Rouda, etc., have all swung Republican to Democrat. The list of party changers is extensive, which simply underscores the fickle nature of people and all the things we create, like political structures, and the very imperfect two-party system.
Politicians, we should remember, are people and people are incredibly fickle and prone to changing our minds, which is why it can be difficult to assume an opinion or standard that is different from the majority around you. If you think it's not hard, think about the vitriol an openly liberal person faces in a deeply conservative community and vice versa. Community is incredibly important to our sense of safety, happiness, and well-being, and our monkey brains will do or believe many things in order to find acceptance in community. If acceptance is so important, and changing opinions can increase acceptance, it shouldn't be hard to believe that humans change our minds frequently, even if we think our opinions and beliefs are steadfast. They probably seem steadfast, due in large part to our environment and the propensity of people to surround themselves with people who agree with them.
But, our brains can justify just about anything. Point in fact: Kristin Laurin of the University of British Columbia examined people’s attitudes before plastic water bottles were prohibited in San Francisco. The ban did not receive widespread support, but was instituted nonetheless on March 11, 2014. Just one day later, her team again tested public attitudes. Already, views had changed: people were less opposed. But one day isn't much time. People hadn't even changed their behavior, they had simply adjusted their mindset. The study concluded that humans rationalize the things we feel stuck with. Laurin calls this the "psychological immune system," because our brains decide to focus on more important things that we can perhaps change.
Change is one thing nearly everyone resists, so when someone in a position of power (like a politician) changes their mind, or political parties, or anything, most of us don't like it. But here's my point: we should applaud the changing of one's mind; the ability of anyone to admit they were wrong and come to a more nuanced (or just different) understanding of any issue. Nobody can condemn a normal person for growing and changing their opinion on an issue, because most ordinary Joe's don't or can't reach a wide audience. I've grown and changed my mind on many issues, by learning more, by living longer, by talking to people with different experiences and backgrounds. Usually, we don't change our minds willy-nilly because our identities are closely tied to our beliefs. So, when someone does change their mind, especially someone in the public spotlight, the worst possible thing to do is to condemn them. Rather, we should applaud them or at the very least, recognize the many mental loops they jumped through in order to justify their new belief.
The problem with politicians specifically, is that sometimes they "change their minds" for less than stellar reasons. To garner votes, for instance, or to toe the party line. But if a politician flip-flops too much, they lose credibility, so changing their stance or position should be intentional, though often fraught with implications. Instead of harassing someone for thinking a certain way, we ought to attempt to understand their beliefs. This requires putting one's ego aside, understanding (as well as we can), the background and life of another human, which might be totally different than our own, and accepting, instead of condemning, our differences as humans. This is not easy, especially now, when it is incredibly simple to silo oneself in an echo chamber of sameness.
I'd be hard-pressed to meet a single human who I agree with always, and the same is true for you. Things get messy though, when we rage against any type of change, or when we decide that our minds are made up, indefinitely. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is credited with saying, “Change is the only constant in life.” Heraclitus also died a really long time ago, but his words ring true. Change your mind. Change where you live. Change who you know. Change what you do. It'll happen anyway, whether you want it to or not.