The Inconvenience of Facts
We have a tendency to ignore information that does not accord with our beliefs. There is increasing evidence that this is a real problem. Politicians and leaders of all kinds have a responsibility to make the best decisions they can to help their constituents, and to deliver on their mandate.
But how can they do that if they ignore information and facts simply because that data challenges their initial beliefs?
Since we cannot always be right about everything, it should be a common experience to change one’s mind about something, even something very important, when presented with substantiated evidence that our previous position was wrong.
Yet there is an increasing body of evidence that demonstrates that once we have established a position, we are reluctant to move from it, and will ignore information that does not fit well with our views. This is especially true when we have made our beliefs a part of our identity. Reinforced by the number of times we proclaim that identity in public.
For example, to say that one believes in a free market approach is a statement of belief. To say that one is a Republican is a statement about identity. If I am a Republican or an Anarchist then to change my mind in the face of new information is to change who I am in some way. Such decisions are harder and less comfortable that simply to change ones mind about a belief. The consequences can be far reaching, affecting family, friends, employment and status. But is it better to be accepted and wrong, or to risk such changes and be, well, right. Or at least not rigid?
So what does this mean for you and me? Well for one thing we should not decry a politician who changes their mind in a public fashion. We should applaud them for being able to do so. We should ask that they explain what new information tipped the balance for them.
For ourselves we should ask whether or not we are open to new information. To seek it out, and to challenge ourselves to be willing to change our minds on big issues from time to time. If you cannot look back on your life and see such changes, then perhaps you are being too rigid and closed to new ideas. Or do you believe that you are not wrong about anything, and that the changes taking place in the world do not require you to think more deeply and to change also?
Here’s the article that started me thinking about this topic again today. From the NY Times.