I’ll begin with being wrong. Just like you, sometimes I am the victim of my own conviction.
At school, I was taught to think independently—to defend my opinions to others, and speak about them confidently and unshakeably.
But I never had that many opinions. Some pointed it out as a weakness, not knowing my mind. Looking back a few decades however, I think it might have been a big fat strength in disguise.
My two-year-old nephew makes more solid choices than I do. He eats fresh blueberries, but only likes his cranberries dried. If you give him a blue straw, he’ll ask for the pink. He picks his own lullabies at bedtime, and doesn’t like being photographed.
I love this about him, the fact that he has such a distinct personality. But I see some danger lurking there, the kind I realize only when I’m away from him and witness what he might become in ten years.
If I’m asked what I want to eat for dinner, I often say, ‘I don’t know. What do you feel like?’
I may want Mexican food (because it’s my favorite and that’s the answer I’ll always give), but I offer the decision elsewhere for a reason. If someone else makes a choice I might not have made, it allows me the opportunity to try something new, and potentially change.
It’s from this small window of hesitation before voicing my preference that I have learned to appreciate red wine, travel without hotel bookings, and listen to music in different languages.
But this isn’t what we teach our children. We encourage them to know what they want and act on it.
Multiply that small stubbornness to stick to one’s own preferences even twenty years, and you’re faced with a person quite resistant to change.
I know a 15-year-old who has researched and rejected all major religions in favor of scientific theory, a 10-year-old who can critique the whole NBA, and a 6-year-old who demands his mother walk a few steps behind his father because he believes women are an inferior sex.
Extreme examples with the same underlying question: in our efforts to nurture independent, self-confident thinkers, are we instead giving birth to an even more close-minded generation than the one prior?
Ask any parent of a teenager and they’ll tell you it’s harder to convince their son that 12 hours of technology a day is bad for him than it is to convince his grandparent to change an opinion born 70 years ago.
We point the finger backwards much too often. Looking at our parents and grandparents we ask, ‘Why can’t they accept gay couples? Living together before marriage? Forsaking Yale for culinary school?’
We judge their ‘close-mindedness’ and vow never to do the same with our own children.
But I have a suspicion we won’t even have to wait till we have children to face our shortcomings.
Do we have the ability to change our mindset as much as the prior generations did? Or is our individual thought so deep rooted that we are unequipped to budge perspective?
To be honest, I think my parents are far more open-minded than me—because their starting point was so farfetched from what they eventually became. My mother grew up in a conservative religious family where she was given very little control over her choices.
But she raised her own daughters with the ability to choose their own religion, life partners, and careers. She willingly cooked meat for my father, despite being a strict vegetarian; something I know I don’t have it in me to do no matter how much I might love my spouse.
From where I am now to what I will be when I have my own children, I’m pretty sure I will not have travelled as far as my mother did—both in distance, and in thought.
We lie in the comfort of evolution, thinking that because progress inevitably happens, the way forward is an improvement.
But I worry that we get carried away. Just because society opens up on the surface—a more gender-equal workplace, better rights for the underprivileged, or new tools for justice—it doesn’t mean our minds necessarily follow through.
It might not be a bad idea every now and again to remind our children that even though it’s good to know what you want and hold firm to your beliefs, time should also allow you to reassess all those beliefs, discover different values, and admit there might be new and better ways of looking at the same old things.
I’ve been told that even though I’m not opinionated in the small details, I have firm ideas about the things that matter most. For that reason, I’m putting myself under the microscope. Where it matters most is precisely where I should be willing to change.
I remind people all the time that what we believe is going to be our future is so unknown to us.
When my father was a 9-year-old in Uganda, he did not envision he would one day make a livelihood using a machine that had yet-to-be invented, or that his children would communicate with him cross-continent via digital messages.
Why hold so firmly to our opinions for a future we can only suppose will be how we imagine it?
‘When I grow up, I’ll never do that’ or ‘When my children are older, they won’t be like that.’ Change is inevitable, and some day you will have to admit you were wrong—in the way you thought, viewed other people, or perceived tomorrow.
Wouldn’t we be better equipped to handle the unknown if we were willing to revisit what we already know—start over, think anew, hang a question mark on the end of some of our statements?
I think we would. But at the end of the day, that’s just my opinion. And I may very well be wrong.
Image by Viktor Hertz