In 2019, Joe Biden reversed his long-held opinion favoring the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision which prevents the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, except in certain cases. Some critics claimed he was “flip-flopping,” and no longer supported the Hyde Amendment in order to fit Democratic ideals better, but he personally stated he could not back the amendment while women of all income levels did not have equal access to abortion. A year later, Biden is the Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election, so the change in opinion wasn’t overly detrimental to his image. But such a major switch in beliefs (by anyone, not just a politician) can create a malleable, untrustworthy image.
Everyone has opinions, judgements or beliefs. However, such simple words do not capture the connotations, undertones and implications that come with the phrase, “I changed my mind.” There’s a climate of shame and fear regarding changing one’s mind. Someone may adopt a new opinion and immediately be called a hypocrite. We judge people if they avoid picking a side and sticking to it, ignoring the way the world is constantly changing.
“We judge people if they avoid picking a side and sticking to it, ignoring the way the world is constantly changing.”
So why are we so afraid of changing our minds? Risk perception expert David Ropeik, (author of “How Risky Is It, Really?”) believes “we are social animals instinctively reliant on our tribe for safety and protection. Any disloyalty literally feels dangerous, like the tribe will kick you out. This effect is magnified in people already worried.” From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. But we are no longer hunter-gatherers. Even suddenly changing our future plans brings along feelings of guilt and wishes that we had just been more prepared or better-informed the first time around. This fear of deviating from the pack or original plan that comes with changing your mind is no longer relevant, and leads to a narrow view of the uncertain, dynamic world we live in today.
In order to move past the common fear of changing our minds, we need to remember the difference between hypocrisy and changing an opinion. Hypocrisy is an overused term nowadays, that really refers only to instances of faking beliefs or displaying behaviors that contradict your claimed beliefs. Thus, it is not accurate to call someone a ‘hypocrite’ simply because they changed their opinion. If your views change and you acknowledge the change, you’re not being disingenuous, (even if it may feel like it). Changing your mind doesn’t make you unreliable or careless — in fact, it could mean you’re self-aware and merely growing as a person.
Opinions are not stagnant; they are formed based off your general knowledge at the moment you make said opinion. And over the course of your life, you gain more knowledge through schooling, work and living in society. By this logic, it only makes sense that your opinions would change over time. Thus, it is important to think of opinions as fluid. With new information and experiences constantly available to us, it’s entirely understandable that our opinions will evolve. It’s only deceitful if you pretend to still hold onto beliefs you no longer truly follow. Breaking the stigma surrounding forming new opinions is crucial in a world that is constantly evolving.
Humans tend to have an overwhelming desire for consistency both within ourselves and within others, hence sticking to our own outdated opinions and asking others to do the same. But embracing inconsistency overtly is more beneficial in the long run. Cognitive dissonance refers to the uncomfortable feelings of having conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. A smoker, for instance, experiences cognitive dissonance as they continue the habit while also acknowledging that smoking is dangerous. Holding onto your own outdated opinions, (perhaps because they are familiar), when you no longer hold such beliefs creates the same kind of discomfort in the mind.
“I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being — to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.”Malcolm Gladwell, Canadian Journalist
In summary, a change in your opinions is good, and simply reflects personal growth. To quote Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian journalist, “I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being — to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.”