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DUNLEVY: Ability to change views, personally grow harder in modern times


Column: Tempus Fugit

Be it conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional, some sort of individual growth, improvement or change is the goal of nearly every healthy and developed individual in society.  

The precise breadth of this endeavor is inconsequential. Different people are in different circumstances and have different means at their disposal, and it should come as no surprise that this impacts what they consider to be within their reach. But even a small change is a change and thus shows the human need for what can, at the very least, be perceived internally as growth.  

This message is not controversial, but is more challenging to apply than it is to merely consider. In particular, what has never been an easy task has been made more difficult by some certain strains of thought in our society — changing views, developing new understandings and changing one's mind and opinions have never been part of an easy process, even if it is a natural one, but has perhaps become harder now.

Hypocrisy has virtually always been unpopular, and nobody wants to be accused of hypocrisy when the way they feel now about something contradicts the way they once considered the matter. The ideas of justice and virtue are often conflated, and even within fringe veins of political thought, they are generally held up as some of the most important ideals in society.

Simply put, nobody does things that they themselves do not consider to be right, that they themselves do not think of as being the right decision — and a discussion of morality, which politics often become, is a discussion of what decisions are just in what circumstances.

Thus, it can be hard to embrace disagreeing with one's past self. Nobody wants to admit that they may have been, at one point in time, sympathetic toward some injustice, sympathetic to some immorality. It is rarely easy to admit to being wrong. This is doubly true when the matter at hand is something personal or meaningful. How does one admit that they were not acting the way they think they should have to themselves, let alone to others who might hold them accountable?  

There needs to be some degree of give-and-take. If a situation merits an apology, and none is willingly offered, then the individual is either tremendously prideful or has not fully changed their mind. If nobody is willing to accept the changing mind of another, then they themselves are perhaps being dishonest. Ultimately, as no situation is universal, there must be a degree of mutual understanding, a mutual give-and-take. Honest, clear and charitable communication is the solution.

There is a permeating sense of cynicism, spite and scorn that is culturally dominant right now. That makes this process more troublesome. Whatever the social situation, there is plenty of room to assume the worst of another. Conversely, charitable social manners become more and more difficult to assume — there is little room for earnestness.  

This general social tension, in which instantaneous communication and the dominance of social media play no small role, hinders the creation of the atmosphere necessary to better the process of embracing changing views. The internet has become more of a self-curated space than ever before, and it is very easy for an individual to, even by accident, find themselves exposed exclusively to discussions and world views that only affirm what they already believe.  

It becomes much more difficult to change one's mind, to embrace that they were wrong at one point, when the media and discussions they consume reinforce constantly a particular idea and demonize the other idea. It becomes easy to isolate oneself from dissenting views and assume the worst of those inclined toward this contrary approach, and the idea of compromise, let alone leaving oneself open to another side being right, becomes absurd  

Whatever the issue, no matter how niche the matter, there is some community, somewhere online dedicated to this topic. This would not be an issue if not for the habit of online communities becoming rabid echo chambers, promoting more and more extreme views, at the cost of ideological diversity. 

For a hands-on example of this ability of online communities to create spaces that punish contrary discussion, even when the belief at hand is ill-informed, look at the the anti-vaccination movement and note how little room for nuance is left in online discussion. In this case, this is a particularly dangerous trend due to the real-world health consequences.  

Ultimately, this is part of the effect of a culture where earnest and honest discussion is especially difficult. Social interaction which is primarily conducted through toxic channels is tainted. Human beings cannot healthily stagnate and there must be some social aspect to individual growth — but when this social interaction is maladjusted, individual development is challenged as well.  

It is natural to change one's mind and views as one grows and experiences the world in new and different ways, and it is worth re-evaluating any mindset that proclaims otherwise. 

 Ash C. Dunlevy is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior majoring in plant science, agriculture and food systems. His column, "Tempus Fugit," runs on alternate Mondays.

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