Meandering Mind

In today’s continuing series of Meandering Mind (in other words, something that doesn’t fit my other blog but I still want to publish), I’ll address a survey by The Edge (no, I’m not talking about Bono‘s sidekick – aka. the most underrated part of U2, named for another U2). This survey contains the responses from 165 noteworthy people regarding their changing opinions. This is a pretty heady topic and I wanted to give my take on it.

What did you change your mind about last year? Nothing? You can’t think of anything? Don’t worry – it’s a natural part of being human. Seriously. There seem to be a couple of principles at work: cognitive dissonance and change blindness. These two things combine to hide our past opinions and make us believe we’ve always held our current point of view. The theory goes that it makes us uncomfortable to believe something that we don’t always do. So we stop believing that we ever held a certain belief. Weird to think that we don’t know ourselves.

What does this say about how we reflect back on our past opinions? What does this say about the sources we should trust? Should you trust a testimonial statement from someone made during an event or after it? Should you trust exposition or statistics? Do peoples’ recollections hold merit or should we consider them all tainted?

But I’ll get back to the topic at hand. What did I change my mind about last year? Offhand, I can think of several things:

  • It is not hard to get around in a foreign place without knowing the language. A few words in common, some hand gestures, props, and a little patience is all it takes.
  • Americans are not the ones who think the whole world speaks English. I was always taught that it was polite to ask a person if he or she speaks English before speaking to them, but people with more experience have learned that this part of the game is more harmful than helpful. Brits seem to be the worst of the lot, rushing up to people and just talking, assuming that they’ll be understood.
  • English really is the international language. Europeans speaking to Chinese, a Frenchman speaking to German, a Korean speaking to Russians (among the more exotic combinations), all speaking English to each other. It’s both normal and surreal at the same time.
  • Motivation is the most critical asset to a person’s success in a capitalistic society. I know plenty of people with intelligence to spare. Idiots with motivation run multi-billion dollar empires. Geniuses without motivation do all the work for them.
  • China is horribly polluted and it’s under appreciated. I thought it was maybe local or regional issues. I thought it was probably not as bad as I’d heard. I was wrong. Anyone putting significant resources toward curbing US pollution should visit China and rethink their allocation strategy. I’m no environmental scientist but I’d guess that China puts out several orders of magnitude more garbage into the air, land, and sea as the US. That’s not to say we couldn’t do more, especially when it comes to reducing, reusing, and recycling, but let’s focus our efforts where they’ll return the greatest benefits.
  • Social engineering is as easy as it seems. Organizations go out of their way to try to make their staff accommodating to outside individuals. That trust can be exploited way too easily. It’s an underestimated vulnerability. But when a successful exploit takes place and is reported, they’re frequently spectacular.
  • The world’s overall climate may be increasing in temperature and mankind may be significantly contributing to climate change. That statement is very carefully written. It’s beyond the scope of this post to get into my views on this subject. But I would love to see lies and exaggerations come to an end. On both sides. Bringing up the subject is like putting a match to a flame (yes, I said that as I meant it – think about it) and very few people think rationally and critically on the subject.
  • Mankind’s impact on the world goes beyond what I’d thought it could. Daniel Quinn ‘s books are very persuasive. (I have only read a few so I left the last word unlinked.)

Most of these came from a big, life changing event – my trip through China, Tibet, Mongolia, and Russia. These were typically accompanied by flashes of realization. But that is not how most changes of opinion come. They come slowly, gradually, and without fanfare. Changes in attitude come from the gradual erosion of one belief and the casual sculpting of another in its place.

The effect is similar to looking at old pictures of yourself. You wonder how you could have dressed so hideously; you marvel at how young you look. But styles did not change overnight and your face did not instantly matriculate to what it is now. These processes may not be as slow as glaciers or rock weathering, but they surely effect change as unnoticeably.

I’ve been writing now for about two hours, and I invite you to take a bit of time to sit quietly and think about how you’ve changed. Over the last year. You have changed so much! Over the last five years. You have remade yourself. Over the last ten years. You are unrecognizable but to outward appearance perhaps. How much will you change over the next year? Five years? Ten years? Should it be less? More? Will you dictate the change or will you let other factors do most of the work? Perhaps you should set these thoughts in writing so you will remember what you really believed come the end of the year.

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Posted on January 6, 2008, in Meandering Mind and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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