Sunday, July 11, 2010


I read this article in today's Boston Globe with much interest. It's been my theory that once people establish an opinion, no amount of facts could change it. Or so it seemed to me after spending some amount of time on local blogs having my IQ challenged when I dare interrupt someone's rant with facts.

From the book "A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character", by Charles J. Sykes, comes one of my favorite quotes: "You can't reason someone out of something they didn't reason themselves into."

I use that line often when discussing/arguing things like politics and religion. (I know they're supposed to be taboo subjects but I hate boring conversations as much as I hate the Yankees.)

The article in the Globe makes the point that offering challenging facts to someone who has a pre-set opinion usually gets that person MORE entrenched in their opinion. You would think that it would be the opposite but here's where human nature comes into play.

People don't like to be wrong and they consider an inconsistency of opinion to be a character flaw. R.W. Emerson said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." When I read that in college, it changed how I argued.

We all hold certain beliefs as a sort of personal truth - and don't confuse "truth" with "fact". One of my truths is that I believe that the death penalty is justified in some instances. I can't imagine anyone ever giving me enough information to change my opinion, and so it stays.  

However, I try to not hold those 'hobgoblins' in my mind and am at least aware of times when I do. Changing an opinion given more information and especially experience is a sign to me that the person is smart and strong. This is what always pains me during political campaigns. That a politician cannot change his mind - ever. Once (s)he says something on the stump, it has to be etched in stone for all time.

I fear that we are a country that is becoming too black and white. And that somehow, personal growth and introspection have become signs of weakness.


  1. This is really interesting. Yes, I can see you're absolutely right. That, I suppose, is why people tell you not to argue politics and religion. They're both based in dogma rather than reason.

  2. It really is a shame though. The way things are going, it looks like we may become even less likely to admit we were wrong. I've changed my opinion from really great discussions and/or from checking facts. How is that a bad thing?