Whatever your feelings might be about Jeff Bezos, according to this article he said something very interesting at a Q&A recently: “He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait.”
I love this insight because I change my mind all the time, and I think having some mental flexibility is very important. I’m not talking about fickleness here, as in not following through on commitments and responsibilities, or flip-flopping views for convenient or random reasons.
But changing your mind is a very natural thing to do. Perhaps you’ve had more time to think about an issue, or perhaps you’ve become more educated about it. Maybe something else has happened that has changed an issue’s ramifications. Or maybe you simply woke up one day and realized you were incorrect. It happens.
I’m sure I don’t agree with everything I’ve written on this blog anymore, or have developed a more nuanced view. Often when I sit down to write an essay, I am learning and thinking as I type. And then I learn more from any discussion we have together in the comments. And then I think about it for a while. And then maybe I read something else that plays into all of that in some way. I often understand something better as a result of this process.
The problem with not changing our minds is that this rigidity makes it a lot more likely that we’ll get stuck. We’re less likely to think of creative solutions to our problems or different ways of seeing something. We’re more likely to remain ignorant because we don’t always get enough information right away, but if we can’t change our minds later, we’ll be stuck with whatever opinions we formed without sufficient data. We’re less likely to think for ourselves and more likely to hold onto unexamined beliefs that were instilled in childhood.
How can we live examined lives without being willing to change our minds when necessary? How can we really listen to what the people in our lives are telling us if we won’t allow even the possibility that those words will have impact? How can we live in a constantly changing world without allowing our minds to change along with everything else?
Of course, as with everything in life, finding a balance is necessary. In order to embrace the possibility of changing our minds, we have to put in the time and effort required to weigh different viewpoints and incorporate any additional data we may have learned. Sometimes we will come to the conclusion that we don’t need to change our minds, that our viewpoint is still working just fine for us. And sometimes the arguments presented to us don’t merit much (or any) investigation.
But pure long-term consistency of thought can sometimes show a lack of any actual thinking at all. Personally, I’d rather keep exploring, learning, and asking questions. Changing your mind doesn’t have to feel like failure; instead it can be seen as a victory.