Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Waffles with Syrup or Strawberries

We deride flip-floppers. Maybe we shouldn’t.

WafflesChanging your mind is not intrinsically bad. Admitting you were mistaken is not a sign of moral or intellectual weakness. Having second thoughts can be healthy.

In politics, flip-flopping is considered a cardinal sin. Candidates are pilloried for modifying or reversing an earlier position. They are called spineless or political opportunists with their fingers in the wind. This could explain why politicians stubbornly refuse to face facts. It’s politically too dangerous.

Flip-Flop-Alert-Romney-Seeks-To-Reinvent-Himself-Again-At-The-Republican-National-ConventionBut it isn’t just politicians who stubbornly cling to their views, right or wrong.

Adam Grant, in an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times, says our aversion to inconsistency runs deep. “We don’t just loathe inconsistencies in others,” writes the professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School, “we hate them in ourselves, too.”

Worse, when we confront reality that challenges our viewpoint, we double-down on our views. We cling to them even more irrationally.

When faced with dissonant choices – for example, you can’t find a candidate who supports both abortion rights and capital gains tax cuts – people opt for consistency and ditch nuance.

“If I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and I want to vote for a candidate with a decent shot at winning, my beliefs are contradictory. One way to reconcile them is to change my opinion on abortion or tax policies. Goodbye, dissonance.” Hello, conformity.

Grant argues that internal contradictions exist in most of us. The ability to acknowledge those contradictions and be open to new information or views is a gateway to growth. He also says flip-flopping has been a trait of some of American’s best presidents, from Lincoln to Roosevelt.

“One person’s flip-flopping is another’s enlightenment,” Grant writes. “Just as we would fear voting for candidates who changed their minds constantly, we should be wary of electing anyone who fails to evolve.” Some names quickly pop into your head.

The unwillingness of people to confront their internal contradictions could be a contributing factor to widening political polarization. We see ourselves as part of one political group and adapt our views to conform to that group. At the same time, we come to view other groups more critically – and monolithically.

Conservatives deplore liberals for wanting to be “politically correct,” while liberals jab at conservatives for demanding political “red meat.” There is some truth to both claims.

Internal contradictionWhile there are black-and-white issues, there are many more in various shades of gray. You could be a conservative and still find Jon Stewart funny. You could be a liberal and like real Texas barbecue.

As a conservative or a liberal, you might even enjoy engaging with someone who doesn’t always agree with you. Occasionally, you might just have to admit that your previous point of view wasn’t quite on target. You could even say out loud, “I was wrong.”

If someone calls you wishy-washy for being open to new ideas or arguments, ignore them.

And if someone accuses you, as George H. W. Bush did of John Kerry, of having “more waffles than the House of Pancakes.” Just smile and ask, “Do you like maple syrup or strawberries on your waffles?”


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