This will not be a hugely political article, much as I am tempted to write one after the disturbing events of this past week. Some people will simply not own up to having been wrong about someone else, instead hiding within the ranks of cowards who support a demagogue.
Then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of short biographies Profiles in Courage, describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight other Senators. In 1989 members of President Kennedy’s family created The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award to honor President John F. Kennedy and to recognize and celebrate the quality of political courage that he admired most.
It’s not unusual to change our minds about a person — someone we know or someone we haven’t even met. We change our minds about food from a different culture, the new neighbors and their loud music, the environment, and so forth. Young people or their parents may inherit some really bad impressions of a teacher at school that turn out to be wrong.
In California, our yards often have several of dozens of lizard species running around (some with long tails) that eat bugs and other creepy things. We often call them chameleons, although that’s usually incorrect. The true chameleon tends to be a thick-bodied little guy or gal that can rapidly change its color to match its background. This is a survival technique, often adopted by 2-legged creatures, such as ambitious or insecure people, or those who are shy and frail through no fault of their own. We’ve also heard the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” so you won’t stand out as a dummy.
In addition to the changeable people we interact with daily, we see many instances of changing opinions when we watch TV news reports or interviews. Here is where Congressmen or women, for example, show their many sides, or their stubbornness.
“How can he say that?” we might think, or “How dare she? That’s not what either one of them said just a month ago!”
Why Community Leaders Change
Any number of things could have happened to change a community leader’s mind between one speech and the next. A politician has a capable and hardworking office staff, whose members may research and draw up the letters the Congressman signs, or they may respond to constituents via e-mail. Those staffers monitor what’s going on in the world and back home, and are in contact with the local field office. They may present their boss with a summary of 7,000 or 70,000 e-mails received in just one month. They may dig out a fresh report from scientists or new figures from economists. Their Representative or Senator will then sit and ponder, and may reach a different conclusion than one previously held.
Following the wrong crowd or the wrong philosophy can get us into a situation from which we can’t easily extract ourselves. We can listen and learn, but we need to make sure we quickly turn back to righteousness. Today the United States is mostly too young to remember the McCarthy Era (late 1940s through the 1950s) where Senator Joe McCarthy spearheaded hunting down those thought to be communists or communist sympathizers with no evidence to support the suspicions when they were draggged before Congress. In the process he and his ilk destroyed the lives and careers of hundreds, if not thousands. Even today, Yankees are so afraid of the terrors of communism that they have swung too far and are starting to embrace fascism. Come back to the center, people, and be Americans!
There’s little to choose between either of the extremes of communism and fascism, and we should stay centered on our republic, which is a representative democracy, not a pure democracy. The latter would leave minorities unprotected. The USA is both capitalist and socialist, as are most capitalist countries. If it were not so, there would be no public schools or universities, no state owned or maintained roads and highways, no water and sewer systems, no welfare, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, Social Security benefits etc.
Changing Our Own Minds
To cover both sides of changing one’s mind, yes, some people ignore whatever additional information comes their way, or they just don’t want to know. I guess that’s ok, even when it’s a priori thinking. Agency is our most precious gift from Heavenly Father. We just need to remember that if we are hurting others with our agency, a price tag is attached. Everything we do has a result somewhere down the road.
Individuals who don’t change their minds have their reasons. They want to fit in and need to be accepted. They can’t handle the torment of being different. And believe me, being different can be sheer torture at times! But having the courage to change your mind, your appearance, or your behavior, to stand up for who you are and what you believe in, is a learned talent. Most of us are not born with genetic courage, although certain lineages have that gift.
My own lineage is that of being an explorer, someone who emigrates to find new worlds, and hopefully, a better life. My family has gone from the UK to South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Cuba, and even the United States and Canada over a century or more, as I eventually discovered. Some of it was a huge surprise: for example, to find that anyone in my family had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had followed the “Mormons” to the Salt Lake Valley and beyond. Our family is a tough lot, but have to be forced into confrontation. We greatly dislike it.
Changing our minds about anything can be a heavy responsibility for anyone, depending on the topic. Each one of us has already changed our opinion about someone or something in our lives. If we judge too hastily, we may find ourselves changing our minds so often that we make other people dizzy. And they might end up not believing anything we say, or dismissing us as extremist cranks all the time. Let’s not go down that road.