As a result of the on-going worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Thinking about my own biases and preconceived notions. Thinking about why some ideas become prevalent in certain geographical areas and not others. Thinking about why people cling to comfortable but outdated lines of reasoning. Thinking about why we as humans seem so reluctant to accept change.
But change is essential to progress.
There’s been some casual talk about normalizing changing our minds, and that really set my brain gears in motion. Why isn’t this something that we talk about more? Sure, we hear about the growth mindset in TED talks or self-help books, and our therapists always encourage us to be open to change. Yet, on a larger scale and on an international stage, people seem to get lambasted for changing their stance on something. It seems to me that many people share an underlying anxiety that changing their minds shows some sort of weakness, that changing their stance could compromise who they are. To me, though, a willingness to admit that you’ve learned enough to have a different mindset shows growth and deserves respect.
In thinking about all of this, I began to wonder what had *I* changed my mind about over the years? Had I changed my stance on something that I once fervently believed? Were there things about which my opinion had evolved or completely flip-flopped, even? What “facts” had I thought to be true only to later learn were not?
I urge everyone to ponder these questions as part of the important work we should all be taking part in now, and make a list of things that you used to think or believe. To get us started, I’ll share my list with you:
- I used to think that the Oxford comma was pointless, but am now a full supporter.
- I thought team sports were stupid and a waste of time, but now appreciate the camaraderie, self-sacrifice, collaboration, and teamwork skills learned through them. (Doesn’t mean I want to watch them all day, though.)
- I believed George Washington had wooden teeth. While he did have bad teeth, and eventually lost them all, all of his denture sets were made out of ivory or human (!) teeth.
- I used to think rap was just noise, but now appreciate the complex lyricism, skill, and poetry of the art form, and listen to quite a bit of it.
- I used to think Brussels sprouts were disgusting; I was wrong.
- I used to think that tattoos were trashy, as was allowing your bra strap to show. Oops.
- I didn’t understand the appeal of marijuana or most alcohol, and thought poorly of anyone who did too much of either. Double oops.
- I used to think that language needed to be more static and policed (like in France), but in learning more about linguistics and etymology have since found so much joy in the ever-shifting nature of words and syntax and dialects. Related: I used to think dictionaries were PREscriptive, when in fact they are merely DEscriptive.
- I believed that my self-worth was directly tied to other people’s perceptions of me.
- I gave way too much power to the number on the scale.
- I could never imagine a future in which I didn’t own the media I consumed (CDs, DVDs/BluRays, software), but am a total streaming convert now, and am in the process of destashing my physical media.
- Crunchy hippies used to confuse and confound me. Home birth? Cloth napkins? Metal straws? Bidets and cloth toilet paper? Reusable diapers? BLEGH. Turns out, I’m kinda crunchy, after all.
- On a similar note, my convenience used to outweigh a thing’s environmental impact, but now I often swap the two.
- I thought Nashville was just for rednecks and country music.
- In my youth, I used “gay” and “retarded” to mean “stupid”, “meh”, or “unoriginal”.
- I refused to use anything but pads until college when I finally learned how to use a tampon, and have since been converted to the menstrual disc (which I previously thought of as disgusting and hard to use).
- I worried that using anti-depressants was a sign of weakness. It’s not, and I’m thankful I found one that works for me.
- I used to be 100% against the 2nd amendment.
- I used to be too scared to try acupuncture, and will now urge anyone who hasn’t that they should try it.
- I thought homework was an essential use of my time, and that everyone needed to go to college to be successful.
- I used to think of Hufflepuff as the least cool, weakest, most boring Hogwarts house, until I realized I value the Hufflepuff principles of hard work, patience, justice, and kindness more than the other houses’ traits. #PuffForLife
- I used to believe that a fat man dressed in red somehow used magic and flying reindeer to transport unearned gifts to children around the world in a single night.
Some of these might seem silly, but I hope that through even the most trivial mindset change that I can illustrate one simple fact:
Beliefs change. Thoughts change. New information comes to light and new ideas emerge. We learn. We experience. We grow.
This sort of personal growth obviously happens on a spectrum. Some of the things on my list are examples of repeated exposure leading me to an unconscious realization, some are examples of personal experiences or my environment affecting my mindset, and some are just straightforward facts replacing misinformation. Some of these mental changes were easy to come by after some research and critical thinking, and other conclusions required a lot more personal reckoning. In many cases, I was not consciously aware of the changes taking place, but in others I took an active role in confronting my thoughts.
But it doesn’t really matter whether my ideas and beliefs changed due to environment, experience, education or exposure. The important thing is that I made room for those changes to happen; I didn’t fight the process. I let myself grow and, in my opinion, changed for the better.
Even though many of my personal beliefs have evolved or straight up 180’d over the years, I’m still me. The core of my personality and essence of who I am has not changed. I’m still the dorky Harry Potter loving, musical singing, cat bothering, nail picking, coffee drinking, party planning, loud mouth I’ve always been.
But many of my personal details have changed, for which I am grateful. I am less anxious, more adventurous. I am more aware of what I put in my body and less worried about what the outside looks like. I care less about the trivial (like grades) and more about things that matter (like raising my child to be kind). I feel that I’m more open minded and generous of spirit, more willing to accept that people contain multitudes and that things are rarely binary. I’m more willing to admit when I’m wrong (even when it means acknowledging that my husband or father was right!) and slower to judge a book by its cover (except for actual books, because a boring cover usually isn’t lying).
Unlearning falsehoods or accepting new truths doesn’t make you a hypocrite or change who you are at your core. If anything, questioning our beliefs gives us a firmer ground to stand on for the things we do hold onto. We can allow new ideas to challenge our built up biases without giving up the essence of who we are. We can deconstruct childhood beliefs without negating our past experiences. Accepting new ideas or allowing yours to evolve can make room in your life for more people, more wisdom, more joy, more growth.
Whenever I find myself rumbling with hard ideas and questioning what I believe, I always think of that scene from Dogma:
Bethany: What’s He like?
Rufus: He likes to listen to people talk. I remember the old days when we were sittin’ around the fire. You know, whenever we were goin’ on about unimportant shit, He’d always have a smile on his face. His only real beef with mankind is the shit that gets carried out His name. Wars. Bigotry. Televangelism. The big one though, is the factioning of the religions. He said, “Mankind got it all wrong by takin’ a good idea and building a belief structure out of it.”
Bethany: So you’re saying that having beliefs is a bad thing?
Rufus: I just think it’s better to have ideas. I mean, you can change an idea; changing a belief is trickier.
For 20 years, this quote has been in the back of my mind whenever I encounter a challenging notion or want to put a stake in the ground on something I believe. It reminds me to allow room for questions, to not be so rigid and unyielding in my thought processes.
2020 seems to be a year that is pushing many of us to our limits, from wildfires and tornadoes to an unprecedented global pandemic, unexpected unemployment, and a growing civil rights movement. This year is challenging the very things that we believe as a society and revealing some ugly truths along the way. Right now, as we engage in this international dialogue about race issues, we can’t afford to be rigid and unyielding. We must make room for those challenging ideas and experiences of others, to confront our understanding of our own racial identities and how they interact and affect others. This historic time period is an opportunity for growth and change and opening all of our hearts and minds.
There isn’t a single one of us who isn’t (or who shouldn’t be) rumbling with hard questions and challenging ideas right now. Each and every one of us should be asking ourselves why we think the things we do and, if we don’t have a good answer for it, considering new ideas to replace our old ones and expand our worldviews.
So I don’t know who needs to hear this, but here you go: it’s okay if your ideas change, if your beliefs evolve, if what you thought was once true turns out not to be. It’s okay to stop believing in Santa, and reevaluate supposed truths when new information comes to light. It’s okay to change your mind; It won’t change your core. But if you’re lucky, it might change you and us as a whole, for the better.