In the contentious presidential election of 2004, John Kerry was dubbed “The Flip Flopper” by George W. Bush’s campaign. After Kerry made numerous contradictory statements about subjects like Iraq, the war on terror, and economic policies, he was painted as someone who couldn’t make up his mind or decide where he stood on important issues. The nick-name stuck. Comedians used it as content during their late night show monologues, Bush supporters showed up to rallies dressed as the summer footwear, and you could even play an online video boxing game-- Kerry vs. Kerry. It made him seem weak, indecisive, and ultimately contributed to the demise of his campaign. This, of course, was not the first or last time this tactic would be used. We would see it later when both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would shift their views on things like gay marriage and the Iraq war.
While we can talk all day about the morality of politicians changing their minds and the possible ulterior motives of switching sides on an issue, I think that besides John Kerry’s failed Presidential bid, there is another casualty of this flip-flop rhetoric.
People are afraid to change their minds.
Most of us are taught from a young age that it is important to know where you stand on an array of subjects ranging from politics to religion to college football, and of course the more important issues like whether you prefer Coke or Pepsi.
Having strong, anchored opinions is not a bad thing. In fact, it is an integral part of our inner lives. Our opinions and beliefs about things shape the rest of our lives. They influence which churches we go to, who we vote for, and the businesses we support with our money. But when we set these opinions in stone and place them upon our shelves as a representative of who we are, we enter into potentially dangerous territory; because stone can easily become an idol.
My husband often says that we should be able to remember the last time we changed our mind about something. I think he’s right.
Evaluating our opinions and being open to shifting them is a sign that we are paying attention. It signifies that we are intentional enough to take in the information, read the statistics, listen to the stories and let those things shape what we believe.
I spend a lot of my time talking to people about gun violence and what can be done to solve the crisis that we are currently living in. This is one of those issues where I find that the opinions are deeply ingrained in the core being of a person. It’s not surprising. It is the definition of a “hot button issue”. And yet, it is critically important that people be willing to reevaluate here.
I used to be staunchly pro-second amendment, even after I was wounded in a shooting. I spent three years studying, learning, and listening before I started speaking out and advocating for common sense gun reform. I changed my mind.
What I have learned throughout my conversations with people, is that people are scared to change their minds. Because our opinions and beliefs help to form who we are, when they start to shift, we start to feel out of control. We feel we lose sight of who we are. We think back on all the time we spent defending and upholding our viewpoints, and we wonder what it was all for, and who we will be if it changes.
But you are still you. You are just changing.
Changing our minds does not make us weak, indecisive, or untrustworthy. Being willing to evaluate, and ultimately change our opinions shows we are thoughtful, wise, and aware of the world.
Maya Angelou famously said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
I think the same can be said for our opinions. Hold them close until you discover new knowledge, new research, new stories. Then when you know better-- change, shift, and do better.
We paint those who change their minds as flip-floppers, as unsteady, uncertain, and manipulative. But maybe they just discovered that they could do better. And maybe instead of punishing, we should be encouraging people to follow suit.
Be open. Pay attention.
It’s okay to change your mind.