I make a practice of changing my mind. With practice I have found it becomes easier, even reflexive.
This goes hand in hand with saying “I was wrong.” Take a moment to think about it. When was the last time you heard someone say “I was wrong.” – those exact words, not just the gist. Even politicians eating their regular helping of crow tend to avoid it with “I deeply regret” and other such carefully crafted deflecting platitudes.
I’ll admit I have an odd way of practicing this. When someone asks me a question I’m not sure of the answer to, I’ll think through what I know, pick an answer, and go with it. Then I’ll pursue the conversation. I’ll encourage a bout of critical thinking. With a willing participant, we’ll examine my answer, what they think might be right, brainstorm potential alternatives, and weigh the pros and cons.
This is not to say I avoid saying “I don’t know.” That’s another healthy thing to get used to, in my opinion. If I’m truly clueless, I’ll say so. It’s the cases when I think I might know, when I pick an answer and run with it.
I’ve heard this style of debate referred to as “the lost art of the bar argument”. While I missed the heyday of hanging out in bars before the age of smartphones and Google, I have heard legend of mythical conversations that would last hours, grow heated, ebb, flow, and ultimately often remain unresolved for lack of a Library Card or the motivation to use it.
While I was denied the privilege of experiencing these in their true form and native environment, my college roommate and I would often do this for hours while hiking, driving, or drinking on a Friday night. We would intentionally not look things up just to go through the process.
When the final answer was finally revealed, typically one of us was given the opportunity to say “Wow, I was wrong!”.
I love being wrong.
Being wrong means I learned something new. Better yet, because I defended the point and had to admit my wrongness in a public way, if only to one other person, I am more likely to remember the experience.
This is all well and good with subjects that are factually clear cut, but what about messier subjects?
Changing an opinion or a belief can be particularly strugglesome. To change your mind about something non-factual requires persuasive argument as well as an open mind. Often facts are involved, but interpretation of those facts can vary. Pick your favorite political topic. There’s no shortage of facts, right? Yet you know how “the other side” adds up those same facts to come to a contrary conclusion. Sometimes this is based in logical fallacy. Often times, however, there truly is no clear-cut right answer.
Debating something with a clear factual answer that you simply don’t know yet, like the maximum speed of a speed-walker for example, can be an entertaining exercise if you lean into it. Debating opinions, beliefs, and conclusions based on contributing facts though, that is the hard drug for me.
Engaging in an intelligent debate broadens my understanding of the issue. I often learn new things and always… okay, try to always fact check those things before repeating them myself.
What I find best about engaging in such a debate is that with a truly open mind is that I see only positive outcomes . I will learn more about the “other side”, their argument, and their way of thinking. If I retain my original position, I am still better versed in the nuance of the issue. If the position is particularly egregious, like white supremacy for example, this will bolster my knowledge and skill to pursue my argument against it in the future. If the issue is equally good-hearted on both sides, with abortion for example, I can better sympathize with the other point of view in spite of not agreeing with it. Finally, I have the opportunity to learn new facts, weigh their impact on my belief, and change my own position.
This is all to say, when I encounter someone who can take new input, evaluate it, and change their mind – truly take new action counter to their prior beliefs and decisions, I find that impressive. I consider that a hallmark of a sharp, flexible mind.
Those are the people I want to spend time with.
Finally, when someone says to you “I was wrong.” be gracious. Resist the temptation to blurt “Ha! I was right! I knew it!” Take a moment and a breath to remember that admitting wrongness is hard and should be encouraged.