The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kidding nobody about where it goes
I’m sitting down here in the campfire light
Searching for the ghost of Tom Joad
Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad
The Truth about Changing Minds
When was the last time you had a civil exchange of ideas with someone who had a different perspective on things and one of you went:
Aaah, I see now. I was wrong all along. I have now changed my mind.
Chances are, it’s been a while. And if this ever happened, you should know that was an outlier.
Above a certain age, people don’t change their minds.
This is a painful reality to confront. Most of us deny it even while confronted with facts because it is so much more comforting to think otherwise. Arguments and logic make intelligent people change their mind, we say. I am above that, we say. I am an intelligent, rational person.
It is an idea that persuades us to continue to act rationally and to engage in logical dialogue with people.
And, while some individuals may be able to change their minds based on civilized, logical arguments, the collective state of mind does not work rationally.
War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing
In a previous life I had the privilege to work and lived extensively in places with ongoing long, complex conflicts. I sought this path as a young person who myself grew up in a twilight zone of sorts, at the bleeding edge of the cold war, exposed from a young age to propaganda, misery, oppression and conflict.
My work during those years has been mostly supporting regular people who found themselves displaced by some insane conflict that often destroyed everything they had. Peace. Safety. Community.
Neighbors woke up one day and proceed to brake the door of their neighbors on account on some apparently ridiculous, often trivial-seeming difference. Self-proclaimed soldiers marching to serve some tinfoil master far away, sowing destruction along the way.
Grown adults hating on children because of some old gripe of their ancestors.
Tanks, bulldozers and men with torches showing up one day by the village, burning everything down.
I have always wondered. Why do these things happen? What can be going on that leads to this level of violence and hate at such scale? What makes decent, regular people CHOOSE conflict over any other alternative? And why is conflict so wide spread across the history of every civilization?
I have no answers.
When the collective fuse blows
What I do know is that there are moments in history where people just snap. Not people, as in Bob, Alice or Matt.
People, as in a collective. A community. A nation. A whole generation.
In moments like this, Bob, Alice and Matt become part of something much bigger and much more powerful than any single individual.
Something that once out, cannot be controlled and will go only one way: anger, destruction, violence.
Followed by change. This is the important bit.
Talkin’ bout a Revolution
It seems that fundamental, societal change happens in one of two ways:
- Gradual, slow, quiet, over several generations; OR
- Sudden, violent, loud.
No middle ground, unfortunately.
For some reason, humanity is incapable of peaceful, organized change.
Now we can sit around and have civilized arguments about what is right and what is wrong with the way things are unfolding in a crisis. We can sit around and point out fine economic and social theory.
But that has never stopped a revolution. It won’t do much in the big picture.
Like it or not, Bob, Alice and Matt are part of a large collective state of mind that wants to kick something and see the world burn. The collective state of mind is pissed off!
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
As is always the case, anger has been building up for a whole generation. Discrimination. Inequality. Injustice. Corruption. Poverty. Diminishing hope. The mindless destruction of the planet in pursuit of profits.
Small, visible signs of it all every waking day. And seemingly, no-one cares.
And then, one day a callous act. A brutal, cold blooded killing that symbolizes everything that is wrong with the system. The last straw.
If you are trying to contribute to the ongoing debate through finely argued points of economics, sociology or psychology you are doing this wrong.
Millions of people want change and they don’t know and cannot enact this change that they desperately need. They stopped trusting politicians long time ago. Their sons have been beaten, imprisoned and murdered in the streets, just around the corner from manicured lawns, picket fences and shiny high-rises.
They have never seen their votes matter, so they stopped voting. From where they are standing, they have no recourse. Their voices are not heard except when they yell and kick and burn.
A Change Is Gonna Come’
It will take a long time to recover from this. Maybe a whole generation.
But make no mistake. Change is happening. It will be painful. Eventually we’ll be alright.
So what can you and I do, strangers on the internet?
For one, we can stop f***ing arguing. Maybe do some listening for once. Show some sympathy. Show some goddamn love.
Brace for a long and painful road to change. And take comfort in the fact that whatever comes out of this in the long term will be better in ways that you and I cannot fathom right now.
Also wonder: how will I change? How will I contribute to this new world that is emerging? How will I make sure it is going to be better? Fairer? Happier?
Because if there is one way to win an argument, it’s this:
By changing myself.
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