There was once a old farmer who had spent many years tending his crops. One day, his horse broke the fence and ran away. The neighbouring farmers said, “That’s bad luck,”. The farmer shrugged and said, “Maybe.”
When he woke up the next morning the found his horse had returned and brought with it three wild horses. “How wonderful, such good luck,” the neighbours exclaimed. The farmer calmly fenced in the horses and said, “Maybe.”
The following day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses. The wild horse bucked and the son was thrown, braking his leg. Again, the neighbours offered their sympathy. “Such misfortune,” they said. The farmer nodded sagely and said, “Maybe.”
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. When they saw that the farmer’s son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. The farmer simply said, “Maybe.”
So you just never know.
Sometimes things look good or look bad in the moment but look very different when we look back. But more often, even when we look back, we continue to convince ourselves that things are the way we first thought. We don’t change our minds.
It’s easy to see why. It’s easy to look at social feeds and news websites and only see the dramatic downsides of political events and people being horrible to each other. These platforms set out to group like with like, to reinforce the points-of-view we agree with and create opposition with any alternative. They help convince us we’re right. We have the one and only truth.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Instead, when faced with opposing opinions we tend to believe that only ourselves and those who have the same opinions have the intelligence to have reached the conclusions we have. We tell ourselves the others must be stupid for believing what they believe. We find it really hard to be open-minded.
Maybe we tell ourselves that we’d change our minds if the evidence proved us wrong. But that’s not what the research shows. In fact, one of the most important things we need to allow us to change our minds is knowing we have an accepting and supportive social safety net. If everyone around us believes the same as we do, and we fear that if we changed our minds we could be ostracised by that group, then we are very unlikely to change our minds. Our opinions become entrenched, not because we have strong evidence for them, but because the emotional and social cost of changing them is too high.
So if we want to be open-minded, to be able to change our minds, then we should seek out people who change their minds, or who don’t hold fast to opinions in the first place. These people are the open-minded social safety net that we need. If we are surrounded by people who change their minds, we’ll be more able to change ours too.
And if we can’t find those people, then maybe we can become them for others.
Maybe we can be more open to changing our minds, and tell others when we have. Maybe we can accept that there are other points-of-view, and be public about it. Maybe if we’re less dogmatic in our opinions about things where the good or bad outcome is ultimately unknowable, we can create a social safety net for open-mindedness.
This is quite pertinent to my wife and I’s current situation. We’re about to have a baby and it’s been taken ‘out of our hands’ in a way. There are many ways of looking at this situation. Thank you.