Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How do you change your mind?

The assumption in that question is that we change our minds. I would certainly hope that's true. After all, its hard to imagine thinking of ourselves as progressives if we can't "progress" in our thinking. But it seems to me that this is a question we can only answer for ourselves. I would imagine that the process is unique to the individual.

But in a world of political dialogue - I think this is an important thing to know about both ourselves and those with whom we are in dialogue. So here's how I would answer the question.

First of all...some background. I was raised mostly in East Texas in a family and community of rightwing christian fundamentalists. As a child, I didn't rebel...just accepted all I was taught. With the benefit of hindsight however, I see that I was an observer. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence staying out of the fray and watching from the sidelines. That turns out to have been the first step in changing my mind...paying attention.

In my 20's and 30's, that activity of observation presented me with alot of cognitive dissonance. What I had been taught to think and what I observed in the world didn't jive. So I began asking questions - of myself more than of others. That, to me, is the groundbreaker to changing our minds...questions.

By David Whyte

if you move carefully
through the forest

like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound.

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right
to go away.

I think that the most radical thing we can do is to ask ourselves questions. Once I began the process, I couldn't stop until I found the ground I was comfortable standing on...until the dissonance started to fade. I hope it never goes away. But it is certainly a balancing act for me at the moment. That's because I've come to see that it is important to have a certainty in my convictions. Otherwise the changing winds can blow me here and there. But, as Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican put so beautifully, there is danger in surety as well.

We are always new. Every moment is new. No moment need be like anything that came before, even when the resemblance is striking and our imagination lacking. And yet, of course we must learn from who we once were. But to let a lesson that once helped inform every step forward is to walk an old path, and to preclude the sight of new horizons from our view.<...>

Because life is not like a series of books in a course on ...anything. It fluctuates. We fluctuate. We are not a being, but a becoming, as Friedrich once said. And sometimes ideas are hammered out and we draw lines and walls and are told we fall on one side or the other and so do our thoughts and so does all that follows from them...and so it goes. We buy into these illusory borders.<...>

Being sure is but the borderwall we place around a heart to ward off the skinstripping wind of the next living moment.

So how to maintain that balance becomes the key question to me. There is a lot of comfort in being sure - that "skingstripping wind of the next living moment" can be hard to endure. But stasis is deadly too. We're currently watching conservatives drown in it as the world around them demands change and adaptation.

As it pertains to many blog conversations, I can tell you that someone yelling at me that I'm wrong tends to send me to the place of surety to defend my position. In some cases I can, with the benefit of hindsight, reflect on that kind of conversation and change my mind. But its difficult to do and almost impossible "in the moment."

What tends to work better for me is someone asking probing questions that re-create that sense of dissonance enough that I am invited to reflect. I also find that as I am in a position to articulate what I think, either in opposition or reflection, I have to ask myself those questions in order to create a response. That tends to change me as well and is one of the main reasons why I blog.

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