Politicians shift their views shamelessly with the winds of opportunism. To their defense, they must choose to stand up for what they believe or risk political capital.
Most politicians believe in one thing—winning elections and latching on to power. Seems they’ll say anything that can get them in the office and stay there. Like when, during the 2004 presidential elections, Democratic nominee John Kerry famously proclaimed, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against” funding to rebuild Iraq.
Politicians Will Often Flip-flop to Maximize Their Popularity
Well, that’s the nature of the beast. Politicians enter politics for ideological reasons but must readily sell their souls to prolong their political careers. Politicians never seem to be willing to say, “I was wrong” or “Upon mature reflection, I’ve changed my mind on such and such.”
But what about the rest of us? It seems that, unlike the politicians, we’re shamed relatively easily when we change our mind and adjust our approach. Admitting we’ve made a mistake is too threatening to our sense of self. We end up over-compensating by denying fault and refusing ownership of our own mistakes, thereby protecting our self-image.
There’s evidence that suggests that saying is believing. Making a known pronouncement strengthens our commitment to that point of view. By committing ourselves openly to our present opinions, we may be hardening ourselves to future information that would otherwise change our minds.
The ‘Saying-Is-Believing’ Effect
According to Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (2006,) social psychologists have shown that openly committing to an opinion makes you less willing to change your mind.
Cialdini cites an experiment by social psychologists in which three sets of students were shown a group of lines. One set of students was asked to write down estimates of the lines’ length and turn their estimates to the experimenter. The second set was asked to write down their estimates on a Magic Pad and then wipe out their estimates before anyone else could see them. The third set of students didn’t write down their estimates at all. After the students were shown new evidence that suggested that their initial estimates were wrong,
The students who had never written down their first choices were least loyal to those choices. … By far, it was the students who had publicly recorded their initial positions who most resolutely refused to shift from those positions later. Public commitment had hardened them into the most stubborn of all.
Publicly committing to an answer makes people less receptive to information suggesting they were wrong
Yup, the act of publicly documenting your opinion enforces the feeling of others knowing what your opinion was. This produces fear of being judged.
The hard part about admitting you’re wrong is, well, admitting you’re wrong. This may induce you to refuse to accept new ideas.
The American economist Paul Krugman has remarked on the “epidemic of infallibility,”
Just to be clear, everyone makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect. When you’re committed to a fundamentally false narrative, facing up to facts becomes an act of political disloyalty. What’s going on with Mr. Trump and his inner circle seems to have less to do with ideology than with fragile egos. To admit having been wrong about anything, they seem to imagine, would brand them as losers and make them look small. In reality, of course, the inability to engage in reflection and self-criticism is the mark of a tiny, shriveled soul.
Idea for Impact: Changing Your Mind is Actually a Good Thing
Changing your mind based on new information isn’t bad. It’s something to be encouraged. As the Transcendentalist essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
In our vigilant, hypercritical, and judgmental society, the problem isn’t with people voicing and documenting their opinions (particularly on social media) but with people not being OK with someone changing theirs.
A professed commitment shouldn’t cause reluctance to change your opinion.