By Matt Horan

What do you think of Global WarmingScientific factA bunch of baloney?  Should baloney feel insulted by being associated with Global Warming?

What do you think about healthcare reformShould we go for a national healthcare system run by Uncle SamShould we leave it alone?  Should we pursue tort reform?

What’s your faith system?  ChristianHinduMuslimJewishBuddhistAtheist?  Think you might ever convert from one to another?  How good an argument would you have to make to get someone to convert from their position to yours?  As good as this?

Who’s right about what to do about terrorism? George W. BushBarack Obama?

What do you think of Rush LimbaughBrilliantBuffoon?

What do you think about the government going into more debtRecklessNecessary?

Odds are that you have an easy answer to these questions.  You probably have an opinion on Global Warming, healthcare reform, terrorism, Rush Limbaugh, and government debt.

I have a theory, however.  My theory is that facts are not the things that anchor you to these opinions.  More important than facts are the cost of changing our mind.  Consider our:

Really, who wants to look bad?  Who wants to admit, “Okay, you got me, I was wrong all this time”?  I sure don’t.  I have had discussions with people lots of times about my opinion, and now I have to go back and admit that I was wrong?  Admit defeat?

Consider the cost to a politician.  Imagine if on a contentious issue, some Senator or Representative changes their stance.  Their political opponents in the next election can use this to call them a “flip-flopper.”  They can call them “weak,” “inconsistent,” or “catering to the polls.”  Such a change would make reelection an uphill climb.  How ironclad would the facts have to be to make it worth it for anyone, let alone a politician, to change their mind and admit that they were wrong?  Their first instinct would be to find other facts that support their view, and it’s not wrong to scrutinize new data before accepting it as fact.  However, I wonder which we value more—being right or looking like we’re right?

Many of us have forged relationships with people who were brought into our lives by our cultural, political, or religious associations.  Consider the cost of changing our mind on these associations.  What will your Republican friends say if you become a Democrat?  What will your Muslim friends say if you become an Atheist?  What will your Red Sox fan friends say if you become a fan of the—gulp—Yankees?  Changing our mind comes at a cost to relationships.

How much money have you invested in your allegiances?  Bumper stickers?  Books?  Conferences?  T-shirts?  Donations?  A big foam Red Sox #1 finger?  Could I tell your religious allegiances by looking in your checkbook?  Would I know your politics if I took a look at your credit card statement?  Changing our mind says that those dollars spent previously were wasted.

How much time have you given to your allegiances?  Volunteering?  Reading books?  Perusing websites?  Attending speeches, worship services, classes, and conventions?  How many conversations have you had trying to explain the virtues of your allegiances in order to convince others?  Changing our mind says that that time spent previously was wasted.

Getting people to change their mind is not simply an exercise in sharing better facts.  Watch CNN sometime when they’ve got multiple boxes on the screen, each with a different head in it talking about a side of an issue.  Count how many times one of them says, “Gee, that’s a good point.  Okay, you’ve changed my mind.”

A seismic conversion from one cultural, religious, or political allegiance to another is not an intellectual exercise.  For such a conversion to happen, the pull must be compelling enough to make it worth the inevitable cost in relationships, money, and time.  I would go so far as to say that for a person to make such a conversion easily, it might only come if the person has for some reason already lost those three elements and is in a very humble state, or else the compelling argument for conversion also included replacement of the “divot” made by offering new relationships, and perhaps a refund of the money spent on that foam finger.  Otherwise, conversion is a tough sell.

Perhaps that’s why elections so rarely are won by a wide margin anymore.  People are just not easily swayed.  It’s not for lack of compelling arguments.  It’s simply because there’s nothing there yet to replace the divot.


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