When was the last time you changed your mind about something important?
As children we changed our minds frequently since we were continually exposed to new experiences and were encouraged to learn new things and consider different ideas. The very goal of education for children is to accelerate the reconsidering of assumptions, providing tools for asking questions and finding good answers.
But somewhere in adulthood we find a career, or a circle of friends, and the rate at which we change our minds slows. We settle in to past positions and spend more time defending our old beliefs rather than exploring for better, more refined or more informed ones. There is infinite knowledge out there, but we give up on the habit of growing and choose comfort and familiarity first.
William James said “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” It’s easy to fake due diligence in our own minds that we’ve vetted new ideas. We allow confirmation bias to mask the difference between shallow inquiry and a serious reexamination of ideas we’ve held on to for longer than we can remember.
As social creatures there is great pressure for us not to change our minds and not to keep learning. The older we get the more we and our peers value tradition, and tradition of any kind resists change. We learn to take pride in being loyal and consistent which is at odds with progress, growth and learning. We get better and better at ignoring the many wise people who believe something different than we do, dismissing them for no good reason at all.
Emerson wrote “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” and he meant that he saw little reason to stay consistent with his past self. He believed if he was continuing to learn and experience, his opinion on some matters should continue to change and he should be worried if they stayed the same for too long. Being inconsistent with who he used to be was necessary if he wanted to be wiser this year than the last.
Scott Adams recently published a list of when he changed his mind about certain beliefs:
Age 8: Superman, Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny
Age 11: God, Angels. Miracles. Money isn’t important for happiness
20s: Reincarnation, Ghosts, People are mostly rational, Unquestioned patriotism is a good thing
Regardless of what you think of the specific items on his list, it seems a great exercise to make a list like this of our own.
When was the last time you changed your mind? What do you do to keep foolish consistency at bay?