Sunday, March 18, 2007

Since when is changing your mind a bad thing?

Changing your mind is a good thing"Change your thoughts and you change your world," said Norman Vincent Peale. But he was obviously not reckoning on today's political culture, which seems resistant to change--at least when it comes to minds.

Despite the results of the 2006 midterm elections here in the U.S., American politicians and pundits continue to laud the virtues of "staying the course" as sound strategy for political success--and not just when it comes to the Iraq war, but to all kinds of issues. Consistency, congruity, unswerving loyalty not just to people but chiefly to ideas and causes--these hold high value in American politics and culture.

There is no greater insult in America today than "flip-flopper", a label anyone with political ambitions is eager to avoid. It's as if the act of changing one's mind as the result of reasoned self-reflection is somehow as shameful, as, say, lying about sex with an intern, rather than a mark of maturity and character.

Certainly anyone who changes their views with the prevailing wind as a matter of political expediency deserves our condemnation, as do those who fail to keep their promises, both political and otherwise.

But as a mediator I have to ask, what's so great about consistency anyway? If you're going in the wrong direction, what's the problem with heading in a better one? When exactly did it get to be a bad thing to change your mind?

Maybe it's because mediators see people change their minds all the time. A mediator, nudging disputants toward understanding, may help them walk around a problem, lift it up, turn it over, and examine it from all sides. We witness individuals gather new data, test their assumptions against that data, and reach very different conclusions from the ones they initially arrived with. We see them admit or address mistakes and make necessary course corrections. And watch how these acts open the door to new possibilities and greater gains.

As Charles Kettering once said, "Where there is an open mind there will always be a frontier."