This I Believe

Heather - far rockaway, New York
Entered on August 16, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe in the importance of strong convictions, knowing what you accept as fact and taking a stand in defense of it. I also believe in the value of a mind open to being changed; an understanding of the world that can adjust and an opinion amenable to being persuaded.

On the face of it, holding these two beliefs simultaneously may seem counterintuitive, but I have found that they are more congruent then they appear.

I was brought up in a family of very opinionated people, and tt was not enough just to hold an opinion, you had to go to great lengths to convince everyone else of its merits and ultimate correctness. Whether the subject was politics, religion, art, or the superiority of the blueberry, there was tremendous importance placed on being able to prove you were right. However, in all our polemical discussions we were raised to also listen to the contrary argument.

“How can you expect to change someone’s mind if you are not willing to change yours?” I recall my mother asking me. “Because I am right and she is wrong,” I replied concerning my sisters misguided belief that Spiderman was better then Superman. “But if you won’t listen to her, can you expect her to listen to you?”

My mother’s words stuck, not so much because I thought they were profound at the time, but because I did what she suggested and the most unbelievable thing happened. I changed my mind. In that one brief moment, over a bowl of Cherrios, I was convinced I had been wrong. My sister’s argument showed me a new way to look at heroism. She pointed out that Spiderman’s vulnerability, in stead of diminishing his accomplishments, made then that much more worthy of admiration. It took time to admit it, but in the end it occurred to me she was right and I was shocked when I thought about how much I would have missed had I blithely gone on believing Superman superior.

Since that day, I have spent my life looking for the argument that changes my mind. That is not to say that I often find it. I am still a person of adamantly held opinions, which are well researched and empirically tested. I still vigorously defend those positions and speak with authority on topics of importance to me, but I always try to be open to the other side.

I believe making ones opinion available to change is one of the most powerful tools each individual has. Of the conflict and destruction that terrorize the world today, think how much could be mitigated if people accepted the idea that they might be wrong. As I raise my own family and try to teach them how to navigate the world and instill in them the importance of both having your own mind, and of being open to the possibility of being wrong.

I often repeat my mantra, which is said in earnest but with Dirty Harry-like incredulity. “Go ahead, change my mind.”

This I believe.