Edwards & Christopherson: Don’t Ask People to Change Their Minds and Then Punish Them For It


Chronicle archives

By Sheely Edwards and Nain Christopherson


This might seem like a hot take coming from the school paper’s resident opinion “experts,” but it’s actually good to change your opinion. 

It sounds obvious, but we have a tendency to shame people for changing their minds. It’s almost like we’d rather everyone stay exactly the same until the end of time than ever adjust after learning new information. We prize lifelong loyalty to political parties and talking points over teachability. We destroy people — from elected officials to social media acquaintances — for altering their opinions because we’re too cynical to believe people can change. All we see is a flip-flop.

It’s sometimes hard to remember amid all the resumé-building, partying and sleeping we do outside of class, but learning is one of the main reasons people go to college. Any student who gets their money’s worth will leave with a degree and a new perspective; no one wants to graduate still resembling the pimple-faced people we were at orientation. For many of us, this means confronting long-held beliefs and coming to disagree with friends and family. But at the very least, college should teach us how little we actually know. It should humble us to the point that we’re willing to consider other perspectives.

As individuals, our unrefined ideologies are not enough for us to fully understand the intricacies of politics, current events or social progress. Instead, they’re one piece of a large puzzle that includes (or really should) facts, data and other people’s experiences. If we draw on all of these elements, our opinions should and will be susceptible to healthy change, at least in terms of their nuances — and it shouldn’t be so painful, especially since we change our minds about little things every day. The stakes are higher in politics, of course, but there should still be room for us to change our points of view.

This June, more than two-thirds of American adults said that George Floyd’s murder is indicative of a broader problem in law enforcement. Just six years ago, only 43% said the same of murders in Ferguson and New York City. That’s a shift of 26%, the equivalent of over 50 million people. When faced with convincing arguments, it’s both irresponsible and dangerous for us to close our eyes, dig in our heels and stick too tightly to our guns.

As with many political issues, young adults supported the Black Lives Matter movement years ahead of these large majorities. Right now, in contrast to older generations, the vast majority of college-aged Americans want the government to do more to solve societal problems. They want government-funded health insurance, reduced poverty and action to curb climate change. They support inclusivity around gender and sexuality and a right to basic necessities like food and shelter.

If we really want the United States, and especially Utah, to move forward on these issues, millions of people will need to change their minds — sometimes one policy at a time. Maybe your aunt believes whole-heartedly in free-market capitalism but could be persuaded to vote based on reproductive justice. Maybe you have a childhood friend who is passionate about gun rights and has a soft spot for nature that could lead to an interest in addressing climate change. If, in our personal relationships, we ostracize these people for not strictly aligning with party platforms, we will deter them from voting for candidates who will champion the progressive policies young people support.

Persuading that many people on individual issues will require not only good information (and fantastic opinion writing courtesy of the Chronicle) but also space to change their minds without the fear of being seen as inconsistent or unprincipled.

So what does it mean to create space for changing opinions in our interpersonal relationships? To start with, it means sacrificing the triumph of an “I told you so.” As much as we all like to feel vindicated, we have to ask ourselves what matters most — shaming others because they weren’t perfect enough to have been right all along or building coalitional consensus around ideas that can genuinely change lives.

When we do get to experience the bliss of bringing someone around to our point of view, we should avoid jumping to conclusions and assume that changes were made in good faith. But that also means respecting them enough to expect integrity. We don’t have to accept change uncritically or abandon our belief in accountability — it’s fair to ask someone to follow through and to call out their hypocrisy if they don’t. But let’s remember that giving lip service and passing performative litmus tests won’t tell us whether a person has made substantive changes.

If our principles extend beyond individual candidates, policy positions and party lines, they will inevitably lead us to change our minds every once in a while. And creating meaningful, long-lasting change around the issues we care about will require us to offer ourselves and others that little bit of leeway.


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