We all say we’re open-minded, but once we have an opinion it’s easier to hang around people, read articles and listen to programs that agree with us. But once in a while, whether it’s a dramatic event or just exposure to information over time, we change our minds. This blog provides a place for people to share their story about these changes.
I’ve looked back over my life for one of those eureka moments you seek – that is, an insight that changed my mind about a long-held conviction.
Haven’t found one.
But I have come to recognize what looks to me like an evolutionary process.
I grew up in the Midwest, mostly in Indiana, but left at age 19 for Montana. From a distance Indiana seemed worn out, used-up and fenced in; the West, open with fresh possibilities. I gradually shed a few red-state memes about race, politics, immigrants, and social issues. No remarkable insights; just better ideas developing over time.
Then I was drafted and sent to Korea. The army was still a truly democratic organization then. Universal conscription produced a cross-section of citizen-soldiers, including a good many I might never have encountered otherwise, except, perhaps, those who might show up the same day to renew driver’s licenses. Democracy reigns there, too.
In any event, the military experience meant shedding a few more memes.
Then there was civilian employment, first as a journalist, then as a publicist, then as an independent commercial writer working in advertising and marketing.
I had the good fortune to encounter bright, energetic, talented co-workers, and to be exposed to their rich mix of ideas; and I was given opportunities to travel and to learn.
I suppose there is one insight I can claim from all that: I learned that I didn’t really fit comfortably into any job I tried. I eventually realized I needed to be on my own, perhaps working in concert with others, but basically a sole proprietor.
After decades of bumbling about, I discovered I couldn’t hold a job, and didn’t really want to. Sometimes it can take years to absorb an insight.
This post was submitted by M.R..
So far, the most difficult thing I’ve ever changed my mind about is myself. That seems to be the simple yet profound point of this site: when you look at something from a different perspective, you learn more about it. I’ve always been skeptical of everything: religion, politics, economics, history, etc. But I never had the time to study them all thoroughly until I became unemployed. In my months of research in trying to figure out what I was going to do next, I ended up changing the way I thought about every topic I studied. In some cases I ended up reversing my position completely. I realized that it actually felt good to be able to admit I was wrong about something, because it meant that I was learning something new.
But how do you separate your own opinion from the way you think? If you don’t already know this, it’s a difficult thing to accept; but you must realize that your opinion does not matter. Without any supporting evidence, an opinion is just words; and words and language are subjective forms of communication. Words like “crazy”, “god”, “fat”, “love”, all mean different things to different people because we all have such varied backgrounds.
Everything fell into place for me once I understood that there is no such thing as human nature, only human behavior. If you didn’t already know that, and think it sounds crazy, please don’t take my word for it; look it up. (Basically if you were raised by wolves, you’d act like a wolf.) What this means is that we are all subject to different information and experiences, completely deflating the meaning of ideas like “good” and “bad”. We just are. And considering how incredibly vast and inhospitable the universe is to life, it should be obvious how insignificant our opinions are as well.
So, the universe does not care about us, and the world is full of lies, crime, corruption, war, famine, and all sorts of other terrible things that can destroy our fragile bodies and egos. Based on this information, I used to be very pessimistic, depressed, and self-indulgent. Understandable really, considering what a sick environment we live in. But I realized that we are all in the same boat, and more similar and connected than we would like to admit. Not caring as much about just myself anymore (or the greed that comes with that kind of self-preservation), I decided that I wanted to help people. There is no “I”; there is only “us”. Helping others improves the quality of everyone’s environment (including yours). But treating the symptoms is not enough; you want to cure the disease.
Then another big change happened to me: I found hope. I won’t go into detail or it may sound like I’m selling something (I’d never tell anyone else what’s right for them). But if you agree that the world is messed up and you want to help improve it, I’d recommend looking up the term “resource-based economy”. As skeptical as I am (and you should be too), I’ve been researching it for the past month and to me it seems like the most worthwhile, ambitious, thorough, and achievable goal to work toward. And for the first time, I don’t just mean for myself.
This post was submitted by MJ.
I grew up a progressive Protestant, and over time developed a pretty negative view of Catholics and Catholicism. I just didn’t get how anyone could put so much stock in a single guy in Rome telling you what to believe and how to live your life – and then how someone could turn her back on certain church teachings (like birth control) yet stay loyal to a church that condemned your disobedience. And I just absolutely despised Notre Dame athletics. Then a few years ago, I went to work for a university with a Catholic heritage. I learned a lot of history, especially about the amazing group of nuns who founded the university. To my surprise, I discovered they were and are one of the most progressive groups of women around, fighting for the rights of women to be educated, pushing for social justice and environmental protection, emphasizing the role of service in a well-lived life. My stereotypes about “typical” Catholics started to wilt, once I got to know many of these women and others who were taught by them. I now have a much better understanding of how Catholics can believe so deeply in their faith even as they decry actions or inactions of the church hierarchy. I’ve developed a deep respect for the sisters who worked and sacrificed to help others in a way I know I would be unwilling to do. My newfound softening on Catholicism only goes so far, though – I still can’t stand Notre Dame athletics.
This post was submitted by SS.
I realized that I didn’t really know my feelings about homosexuality until my son told me he was gay.
I wasn’t a redneck, but I also didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what it would be like to be gay. I grew up in a small town, and although I’m sure there were gay people in my school and community, it wasn’t something that people talked about.
Even after I moved to the city and got to know some gay people, deep down it still seemed removed. If asked I would have said that being gay was not that big of a deal because for the most part they seemed a lot like me and everyone else. But I have to be honest, I wondered if, with at least some of them, was this more of a choice or was it the way they were born.
Then I was faced with a new reality. My son, while in high school, sat my wife and I down and told us that he was gay. I was blown away. It wasn’t on my radar at all. We were close, I mean we were really transitioning from father and son to good friends. I thought I knew this kid. But it was clear that I didn’t.
I stood up, went over to him and gave him a hug. Looking back it wasn’t a hug of acceptance, not yet. It was a “I know I need to say and do the right thing here” kind of a hug. We talked. Well, him mostly. In the next few minutes I learned so much more about my boy.
First off I learned that he was brave. This couldn’t have been an easy conversation. It became clear that this sweet child of mine was gay. No question. And he had been for years. This was not some stage he was going through. This was not acting out to be different or to get attention. In fact, this was pretty clearly not a choice. It was as much who he was as the color of his hair.
I think I said the right things. At first, because I needed to. But it didn’t take long before I was saying them because I believed them. This was my son. I could choose to have a son or not have a son. I chose to have a son.
He is still a great kid—a man now. I do know him better. I think I know myself better, too.
This post was submitted by MW.
I’ve always been a reluctant believer in Capital Punishment. There just seemed to need to be an ultimate punishment for the worst of crimes. My reluctance had been due to the realities of the unequal application of it to minorities, the moral consequences of executing an innocent person, and the inequities of applying it to a person who murders one person, yet someone such as the Green River killer, convicted of killing dozens of women, is given a life sentence.
A speaker at my church was the first to really make me question this. But his argument was not a moral one. He felt that the moral argument was something that a group of people with different beliefs would never agree on. Instead he took a path that would apply to a bigger audience. Money.
He quoted Donald McCartin, who had been called “The Hanging Judge” due to his sentencing of 9 men to death in his 15-year career. Now 15 years after his retirement, this conservative Republican is an advocate for life in prison without parole. He says, “It’s a waste of time and money. and all it does is prolong the agony of the victims’ families.” In California it costs $90,000 more per year to house a death row inmate. I read lots of studies that demonstrated that it is many times more expensive to try a Capital case and maintain someone on death row, than to simply sentence them to life without parole.
I also wondered about the affect of DNA testing. It seems like a number of inmates have been released due to better technology. I found out that in the United States over 130 people on death row have been released thanks to DNA evidence. Scary.
I also used to believe that the death penalty was likely a deterrent. I don’t think so anymore. I guess I now believe that most people who commit these crimes aren’t really thinking about consequences. Besides, from what I’ve read, the experience of living in prison without a chance of getting out seems like the Hell I used to want them sentenced to. And if you believe in that place, it’s comforting to know they’ll end up there anyway.
This post was submitted by D.P..
I was born a Republican. No surprise, I grew up in a home where both parents tended to vote Republican. There were exceptions. When asked I’m sure my parents would have said that they voted for the person, not the party.
The first time I could vote for President, I voted for Richard Nixon. Hey, Watergate hadn’t blown up yet, he honestly seemed like the best choice. Later, as I moved out on my own and was exposed to other perspectives, my voting pattern slowly changed. I became more of a Democrat. Oh, I still voted for many Republicans, but the majority of my choices were Democrat.
Now I’m simply confused. I don’t think that my feelings or philosophy have really changed, but it seems that the political parties are changing around me. The extremes on the right and the left are forcing the candidates in both parties to the outer edges. Compromise used to be a virtue. It’s how respectable people solved their differences. No longer. Now it’s positioned as a sign of weakness. How can it be that a country based on individual freedom and the separation of Church and State can or should question any candidate’s faith? This should be a private matter. To me it’s a lazy person’s way of picking a candidate. “They are not like me, so I won’t vote for them.”
So now to my big change in perspective. No party is more right than another. It should be about the individual. Here’s where I’ve changed. I used to get really upset when people didn’t vote. I even participated in programs to get people to register. Not any more.
The challenges we face are extremely complicated and I’d prefer it if the only people who voted were those who care enough to invest the time to really understand the issues and the differences between candidates. And yes, this actually includes listening to and reading about both sides.
So I’ll never encourage you to vote. I’m not doing it now. In fact, I don’t want your vote to cancel out my well-considered and researched choice.
This post was submitted by T.S..
Come on, who really likes brussels sprouts? I don’t care how good they are for you, why would anyone choose to eat these tart, oddly textured creations. That is until my wife found a recipe that used vast amounts of bacon. Oh my. I now look forward to popping these morsels into my mouth. No matter the question, bacon is often the answer.
This post was submitted by Hugh.
It was 1971. I was about to turn 18. And even though the Vietnam War was winding down, there was still a draft. I’d been raised in a very patriotic home. I grew up seeing the emotions surface in my Dad when the National Anthem would play. To this day I get goose bumps every time I hear it.
I grew up knowing the story of how my father had graduated from high school early so he could enlist in the Navy to fight in WWII. He was on a landing craft on a beach at Okinawa and served over 2 years in the South Pacific.
I grew up in the 60s watching TV shows like Combat and Rat Patrol that made fighting for your country a really cool thing to do. My friends and I would play Army all the time. Throwing dirt clod grenades and learning how to imitate the sound of a Thompson submachine gun were the video games of the day.
Yet, like all of us, my father watched the TV news during the late 60s. As these images and stories came to us I watched his perspective on patriotism change. I saw him wrestle with his feelings about our country. I could see that patriotism was more complicated than ‘My country right or wrong.’ I learned that there was a responsibility to be a thinking patriot, not a blind one.
So in 1971, as I was facing the reality that I could be drafted and be sent to fight a war that was certainly unpopular and perhaps unjust, I struggled with my feelings of patriotism. Of course I loved my country and I wouldn’t want to disappoint my Dad. He sensed my confusion. He sat me down and told me that from his perspective these were different times and this was a different war. Then he told me, “I’ll understand if you decide to go to Canada instead of Vietnam.”
I’d always loved my father. But seeing his perspective change over those turbulent years taught me more about being patriotic, a good citizen and hopefully a good father than any lecture I would hear or book I would read.
Thankfully the draft ended so I didn’t have to make that choice. Unfortunately the war continued until 1975.