“I Want the Truth!” screamed Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men

Do you value the truth? If we as a society and as individuals claim that we value the truth, why is it so difficult to change our minds? Why are we viewed as weak, out of integrity, or wishy-washy if we change our minds? I recently read this article on Persuasion and it reminded me of “stand your ground” which can also be said of maintaining your viewpoint or opinion after you’ve stated your position. For many decisions we make, changing your mind may be seen as admitting to a mistake. Let’s face it, people think you’re wishy-washy if you change your mind. 

The Thinker - Rodin Museum

Can You Change Your Mind?

The problem is that we make up our mind, or form an opinion, based on interpreting the information that we have at hand. At that point in time, that becomes the truth (to you) or relative truth, but not necessarily the absolute truth. Understanding that your own truth is most likely relative rather an absolute is critical. As an example, on March 1, 2020, the CDC reported 30 known cases of the Covid-19. That could be considered the absolute truth, a fact (a fact that will not change at that moment) that would not be different in a different time, or context. The relative truth (the relative truth is a principle that can be applied in a certain period of time but could change over time ) was that the virus was not a serious threat. That was the ‘truth’ as interpreted and relayed by some key members in our government. And when it comes to developing your ‘truth’, we all need to recognize that relative truth can be a continuous function and doesn’t have to be a 0 or 1, yes or no truth. Rather than say; “The virus represents no threat to the USA”, why not, “The virus has a very low probability, we estimate, less than 10%, chance of affecting the USA”.

After you’ve analyzed the current information and developed your viewpoint, what happens when new information is discovered at a later point in time? What happens when you have new experiences that are contrary to the experience that you had before? Or, what if other people’s opinions influence your interpretation of the current information? Does your truth change? I think it should! In my opinion, changing your mind should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness or lack of integrity but rather a sign of intelligence and a genuine seeker of the truth. I think that to genuinely seek the truth requires 4 tenets:

  • Acknowledge your confirmation bias – Rather than recall and interpret information that only supports your viewpoint, it’s important to be open to not only information that does not directly support your view but also other interpretations of information that you already have.
  • Reduce your need to be right – We all seek to be right and want confirmation of ourselves by being right. Being right is related to your ego, and if you discover you are wrong, you may feel your self-image is threatened. We want to be not only important but right. If we let our guard down, we may discover that there are many paradigms we assume are a given, and are ‘right’ but over time, situations change, and they no longer are applicable.
  • Be open to new information and opinions – Despite having ‘made up your mind’ on a certain subject, remaining open to new information, facts, opinions, and your own experiences that may be contrary to what your initial opinion or viewpoint is or was opens up learning possibilities. If we make up our minds and don’t remain open to learning new things that may change that opinion, that stifles creativity and learning from the past, which most people say they want to do, yet usually don’t.
  • Start from scratch – Referring back to the article on persuasion, sometimes it may take a mountain of evidence and facts contrary to your viewpoint and you still may not change your thoughts. Rather than hold on to your thoughts and be persuaded, why not start from scratch and consider all the information, past and present, and make a new ‘truth’ for yourself, rather than starting from you past opinion.

Can you imagine what the world would be like if President Bush had said: “Initially we thought there were WMD in Iraq, but after reviewing new information and based on further exercises in the region, combined with other intelligence, we have changed our position and think that the threat is much less than we thought”.

What would it be like if our current President said: “Initially we thought the virus was not that serious, but with all the data coming in, and the resurgence of cases, we see that transmission occurs much easier than we thought and that we were wrong in opening up too soon. Therefore, we are going to develop a national strategy including the procurement of equipment as well as detailed provisions for the wearing of masks in public, along with many other components including how we will handle the caseloads in hospitals; and ask that all states comply in unison.”

Instead, we see many of our leaders double down on a decision that I’m sure they themselves must doubt upon collecting further information, yet they feel they must not retreat on their initial opinion, else be seen as weak or wishy-washy. 

So, the next time someone says “you changed your mind”, “wait a minute, you’re contradicting yourself before you said yes, and now you say no?” how will you respond? Getting back to the above article on persuasion, if someone persuades you to change your mind, does that make you weak in that you are not firm in your convictions or opinion? Is it a bad thing to be persuaded if someone presents a sound argument with facts and information that you possibly didn’t know or have before? If we indeed value and seek the truth, do we have permission to seek additional information, opinions, and experiences that could change our minds?