Thursday, August 19, 2010

Respect the flip-flop

Tonight's post was not going to be about this, but certain events occurred today that made this a pretty salient topic.

I read this blog post a while back (here's a link, but for some reason it crashes my router...weird) called "Strong Opinions, Weakly Held" that really struck a chord with me. It means that when you take an opinion, you should strongly and fervently believe it, but be ready to abandon it and latch onto the next good opinion as soon as it becomes obvious that your opinion is wrong.

The idea was immediately compelling. I was used to pussyfooting around, never actually believing anything strongly but instead seeing the "truth" in all sides of a story. It was a really wishy-washy way to live. Drab, boring, milquetoast (love that word), monotone.

Bart: Nothing you say can upset us, we're the MTV generation.
Lisa: We feel neither highs nor lows.
Homer: Really, what's it like?
Lisa (shrugs): Meh...

So if you want to have an intellectually consistent but bored, boring, and stable life, that's the path I recommend.

But you'll never get anywhere. You'll never push any boundaries or make new discoveries or truly even feel alive unless you take some stands in life. They could very well be the wrong stands, and you may have to change your mind later. That is TERRIFYING to so many people...

We cling to our views because the walls of our opinions are like battlements that keep the good guys inside (us) safe from the enemy without (all those dopes with different opinions than ours). Quite literally, our views and opinions may help protect us, keep us safe, literally help us survive. Small wonder then that we fight so hard to keep those walls strong and tall.
-- from

Very few people are okay with admitting they were wrong. Politicians get hammered all the time by charges that they flip-flopped. It's as if learning, which is the act of changing your mind, is a disease that we should all be embarrassed by.

What a stupid view!

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
-- John Maynard Keynes

You see a lot of arguments on the internet. Very rarely do you see someone say "I'm sorry, I was wrong", even when they've been soundly and self-evidently trounced by facts. It's so rare, in fact, that when you see it you immediately think "my, that person is a gentleman/gentlelady who is actually interested in the truth instead of arguing for arguments sake," and your opinion of them goes up. It's like you've rediscovered manners in a world where they've been dead for a long time.

I'm wrong all the time, but I'm proudly wrong. I'm not ashamed that I was wrong, because I was wrong honestly and didn't hide behind my ego when someone showed me my errors. And then I switched over to a new opinion, one that fit the facts I learned.

One nice side effect of being able to lose an argument gracefully is that people will respect your opinion more when you stand your ground. They know that you're not just being a stubborn ass; there's a good reason that you believe what you believe.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom expands on this idea really well. It's called "The Four Agreements" but there's really only one: "be impeccable with your word" (the other 3 are derived from this one). It means you must be completely honest and express yourself fully all the time. This is more than "don't lie"; it's more along the lines of "be genuinely yourself". If you're interested in finding out who you really are, I highly recommend reading this.

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