How good are you at changing your mind?

I often wonder where my opinions come from. I mean, why do I believe what I do?  
 
My ego would love to believe that my opinions on hot-bed issues – immigration, capital punishment, vaccinations, climate change, abortion, transgender athletes in sports, animal testing, same-sex marriage, et. al. – evolved from a detailed study of the literature. But I know better. 
 
They don’t. On the issues at hand, I haven’t done that much reading, or thinking. Instead, I’ve come to realize that my opinions – about most everything – are dramatically shaped by the people around me. Cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach said it well: “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding.” 
 
The title of their book continues to stick in my mind: “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.” I never quite thought of it that way – we never think alone. 
 
So our early opinions are formed from family, and neighbors, and friends, mentors and teachers. That’s logical enough. But more intriguing, perhaps, is how rarely our beliefs change over time, regardless of how much new information we come across. 
 
Researchers have thoroughly documented why we hold our opinions so tightly – and the related social/survival benefits of doing so. With brain scans and countless studies, they’ve also given name to the underlying reasons (e.g., confirmation bias, avoidance of complexity and belief perseverance, to name a few). So little mystery here.
 
But there is, I believe, an argument to be made to crack open the safe, and examine those opinions. Doing so might be of enormous benefit – not only to us, but for those around us. 
 
If we are open to examining (mind you: not changing them, just being open to changing them), three fundamental benefits may accrue: 
 
One: You’ll learn more about yourself – always in style.
 
Two: You’ll enhance your ability to change your habits – after all, it’s the same brain, with a penchant to resist change of any kind.
 
Three: You’ll likely be more tolerant of others, particularly those who hold different views than you. 
 
The ready question: if it’s hard for us to change our mind, why are we expecting our neighbors to do so? 
 
Life offers us many things, but one of the most glorious is an opportunity to evolve, to keep growing, and keep learning. 
 
In recent centuries, not to mention the last millennium, humankind has solved countless mysteries, yet we remain far afield from uncovering the mystery of thought – why we think what we think, believe what we believe, and why certain thoughts linger as others quickly fade. 
 
Opening the safe may be the key in helping us grow. 
 

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