When I started to learn stage lighting, my teacher preached a bright front wash, and thought an Altman Beam Projector was the Platonic ideal. I held those beliefs until my experience and aesthetic replaced them with new preferences. For a long time, I considered overhead lighting a design prerequisite, until I worked on a production that had a two-story set which prevented me from hanging anything – my overhead washes moved to footlights and side booms, and my thinking evolved. All of those ideas (and others) contributed to my recent work on the musical Chicago; I was happy with the result, and it struck me that I couldn’t have accomplished it 25 years ago.
We are culturally conditioned against changing our minds. Politicians who do are called “wafflers,” and I recently found myself in a Facebook discussion about whether Hilary Clinton should be criticized for not embracing LGBTQA issues sooner. (You’ve probably seen the memes of Clinton calling marriage a sacred bond between a man and a woman, circa [some previous date].) Gay rights activists have done a great job changing hearts and minds over the past few decades – should we criticize those who’ve come around only recently? Only if we want to hinder additional progress.
Facebook, that great virtual water cooler, is practically no-mind-change central. An otherwise intelligent friend posted something about a recent Supreme Court decision, indicating his dislike of unions. A host of well-informed, measured responses followed, met by my friend with fingers in his ears, “Can’t hear you! Agree to disagree!” I won’t soon contribute to his feed again.
One reason I love criticism is that opinions must be supported by words. It’s not just the stance, it’s the reasons on display; the reader can agree or disagree, or perhaps be persuaded. That’s why I change my mind – I become persuaded by arguments (or new evidence) over time. This isn’t waffling. It’s a mature response to the process of living (which might be why I change my mind more frequently than I used to.)
Changing your mind can have consequences. When I was young, I accepted a package of beliefs that came bundled with with my newfound practice of Evangelical Christianity. As I’ve changed my thinking on individual issues over the years, I’ve found myself increasingly alienated from members of that community. The separation has aroused shame in me, as if I were doing something wrong in thinking differently from the group. More significantly, my rejection of individual tenets of the faith has threatened my faith itself. Changing my mind about small things has led to changing it about much bigger things.
We don’t start out as experts, or having all of the information. We make decisions anyway, because that’s life. Changing our minds isn’t a bad thing – it’s essential for growth.