Why Is It So Hard to Change Our Minds?

A number of months ago, someone sent me a message implying I was in part responsible for the environment that created the horrific #DallasShootings because I was speaking out against the injustice of police brutality. An exchange ensued, and I tried desperately to reason with this person. I spent time responding in detail, point by point, as graciously as possible, to each comment. But for reasons I couldn't explain, his messages became increasingly unresponsive to the points raised and hostile, eventually devolving into name calling. 

One of the questions I've been asking in the wake of this election cycle is "Why is it so hard to change our minds?" To put it another way, what causes people (myself included sometimes) to get so entrenched in their ideas or identity that holding onto the idea becomes more important than the pursuit of truth, more important than the person in front of them, and more important than other ideas or identities that they themselves purportedly hold even more dearly? Why can't we reason together? 

Take two seconds to think about it, and you'll come up with dozens of answers. Pride in our own intelligence relative to a friend or family member may eliminate our willingness to be convinced by them. The desire for stability and security makes us loathe to cast aside an idea that has guided and protected us (emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, etc.). Shame, that most insidious of social phenomena, can shove down the reality that we may have been wrong or even hurtful in our shortsightedness. We couldn't bear the thought of all those things we've said and done being harmful, so we aren't even open to the possibility of being convinced that they have been. Then there's the old adage a wise friend shared with me, "You can't reason someone out of an idea they weren't reasoned into in the first place." 

If we cannot change our minds, we cannot reason together because that requires being open to the possibility of change. With all these things (and many, many more) militating against us changing our minds, how is it even possible for us to do so? I think there may be some wisdom for us in the biblical concept of metanoia

Metanoia literally means a change (meta) of mind (noia), but it gets translated in Christian Scripture most often as "repentance."  Repentance is not self-loathing, but rather implies the ability both to think differently and also to live differently....to be different. That's a much higher bar even than changing the way you think. But then again, the worldview of the Bible can't imagine a person whose thoughts and actions aren't inextricably interwoven. 

Metanoia--maybe because it is so hard--is considered an act of God (2 Tim 2:25). In that respect, we ought to pray for it for ourselves and for others. To help produce it in someone else, it may require gentle instruction. Then again, sometimes it requires a harsh word. To be a repentant person, you need a deep humility, an awareness that you do not have it all together just yet.

The result of metanoia? Well, the apostle Paul puts it this way:

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. (2 Cor. 7:11)

In other words, metanoia turns you into a kind of activist. It turns you into someone with urgency, earnestness, indignation, alarm, longing, and readiness to see justice done. May we be people ready to change our minds. 


Photo Creative Commons via Flickr by Alex Berger