Can You Change My Mind? Can I Change Yours?

Can you change my mind Lisanotes

Is This Reasonable?

I knew we’d disagree. My friend’s position was clear. I understood because I used to believe it myself.

But I had changed. I saw no indication that she had. So, what now?

We’re usually told to keep listening and keep talking it out when we disagree. And sometimes that works. Sometimes it changes someone’s mind when they hear a new bit of evidence. Or when they hear a backstory they’d previously missed.

But frankly, often new information does NOT change anyone’s mind. We find ways to get around it, we dig in to our original position, insisting (at least in our heads) that our opinions and beliefs are right; theirs are wrong.

It’s not rational. But it’s reality.

Words Work Differently

This book’s title caught my eye: Stop Being Reasonable: How We Really Change Our Minds. I heard the author, Eleanor Gordon-Smith, interviewed on a podcast episode of This American Life, in a segment called “Hollaback Girl.

Gordon-Smith was sharing her conversations with men in Australia who catcalled women. Despite showing statistics to the men that most women hated having sexual innuendos shouted at them from the street, and that it was an ineffective strategy for picking up women, most men continued to believe that women really loved the public remarks from strangers about their bodies.

After trying in vain to convince them otherwise, this finally dawned on Gordon-Smith:

“I finally understood what had happened. Words do not work in the same way for everyone. And when words are the currency of rational debate, rational debate does not work the same way for everyone, either.”

In this era of division in America, we think we can change people’s minds with the right words. With the right piece of evidence. If we just present the right link to the right article on our Facebook page, all our opponents will see the light.

But it rarely happens that way.

Gordon-Smith doesn’t present antidotes in her book like I wanted her to. Probably because there aren’t any magic answers. Barring a God-miracle, there aren’t any guaranteed, sure-fire methods to change minds, either our own or others. We each base our opinions on our individual mix of emotion and memory and interpretations.

“Anyone who says they have a persuasive strategy that will change a person’s mind without first knowing their circumstances or the genealogy of their beliefs is either lying or grievously mistaken.”

But Gordon-Smith does offer in her book six interesting case studies, some stories which show people do change their minds (a cult follower), and some in which they don’t (the catcallers).

In each case, what is “reasonable” ends up as a matter of perspective.

And that is our starting point.

Can we ever change each other’s minds? Maybe.

But don’t depend on it. 

Love in Disagreement

I continued listening to my friend talk about her belief.

Then I threw in what I thought were cold, hard facts.

Surely this indisputable evidence would sway her.

Of course, it didn’t move her. I finally stopped trying. I adjusted to the fact that I wasn’t going to change her mind. And she wasn’t going to change mine.

We’d have to leave it at that. For now anyway.

Maybe in time—with more experiences, more reflection, maybe even more facts—we could come closer to agreeing again. It is possible to change our minds; we all have done it. We’ve all thought we were right about something, only to realize later we were wrong.

But for today, our friendship wouldn’t rest on consensus, but on trust.

  • Trust that we’re both more than our opinions
  • Trust that the issue isn’t life-or-death
  • Trust that we still love each other, even when we disagree

Maybe those things aren’t reasonable either.

But it’s what we’ve got.

And that is enough.

* * *

What is most likely to change your mind? When is the last time you changed your mind about something important? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to Net Galley
for the review copy of this book


12 thoughts on “Can You Change My Mind? Can I Change Yours?

  1. bill (cycleguy)

    When some people make up their mind there is no changing it. Whatsoever. Facts to the contrary. They will not budge. I think a lot of it an emotional attachment to that particular belief. Until the emotions can be disengaged, it is almost an effort in futility. You gotta do what you did: listen and hope for clarity for another time. IMHO

  2. Pam Ecrement

    You chose a great topic and a vital one. I have been watching this reality unfold in recent years and been the one trying to change someone’s mind as well as the one someone else is trying to change. Neither was usually effective.

    My observations have begun to cause me to believe a number of things at present: 1) our positions have very little to do with facts many times and more to do with values dear to us, biases we may have, how life has impacted us over our history, etc.,; 2) this great polarization of thinking, feeling, and believing is so divisive across the board that I cannot help but conclude this is a spiritual warfare issue where the spirit of anti-Christs are hard at work to create what we see, feel, and live in the midst of; and 3) too often when we try to change someone else’s mind, the message underneath the other person gets is that we are proud and believe we know more and are better in some way and this automatically puts the person on the defense that only gets more rigid if I keep pushing and insisting it is I who is right.

    This has led me to not seek to change the minds of others by my arguments or facts and to live out my beliefs and values in such a way that may speak louder than my words. And last (but should be first), to silently whisper a prayer to the Lord about how I should respond to the person trying to change my mind and what I should say and only to seek to change theirs if He leads clearly.

    These may not be the answers, but it is where I am currently. I don’t want to keep adding to the fuel that fires more and more division without hearing from the Lord I am to wade in.

  3. Sheltie Times

    I think observing how people live their beliefs is far more powerful than telling someone about those beliefs. I’m always more inclined to see a different point of view when I can see how that different belief system is lived in action rather than being told why mine needs to change.

    If I think beliefs that have changed in my life over the years it’s rarely been because of what people told me I was doing/believing wrong but what I observed in others that I came to accept might be different from what I previously believed or understood. Even if I didn’t adopt those beliefs I found I could support others when I could see the purpose of the belief rather than a lecture from someone on it.

    I do think we can and should do more to accept that we can live in harmony with many more differences than we think we can as long as we start with respect for each other. We often can find more in common and learn to live with the differences more easily when we start with the premise we don’t need to change everyone to our way of thinking.

  4. Martha J Orlando

    I’m a person who likes to get the facts from more than one source before changing, or not changing, my mind. I’ve ceased to try to change the minds of others, especially in these contentious times. I’d much rather show them love and respect while gently disagreeing with their opinions.
    And one thing I’ll NEVER change my mind about is God’s love!
    Blessings, Lisa!

  5. Barbara Harper

    I’ve changed my mind often over the last few years. Sometimes a new fact, or more often, a new perspective sheds enough light to cause me to realize I’ve been wrong in my information and understanding. But other times I’m pretty sure it’s the other person who is wrong. 🙂 I have some friends and relatives like you described at the end–we’ve talked over an issue and remained in our opposite views. The issue isn’t something to break fellowship over, but it’s no use to keep going over it, either. Romans 14 helped me a lot in that regard: people of opposite viewpoints on some issues both did what they did as unto the Lord. It’s a kindness to try to gently persuade someone if they are wrong about the way of salvation, who Jesus is, etc., if they’re receptive, but there are so many other areas where we can “agree to disagree” and let it go.

  6. Angie B.

    Oh goodness, is there a more timely post? As you well wrote above, right now our country (and actually this is spreading to other countries too) is a place where if you experience a different opinion garners you all sorts of labels. I am that person who tried the “here is a link that may shed more light”. talk about backfiring. This is why– aside from social media where I share my flowers– I left social media especially Twitter. Talk about a chance to bring out the worst in you in 140 characters. I just decided that the people who truly matter and have a direct impact in my life, are the ones I know in person. Plus I really did not like the me that would get way too passionate about various topics. Wonderful post, Lisa!

  7. Karen Friday

    Hey Lisa, this is a real eye-opening post. W ofen convince ourselves that we can change someone else’s mind when rational ideas and sometimes even facts are presented to them. Because we see and understand the plausible reasons to believe, we think everyone should be able to do this too. But as you point out, that rarely happens. In the end, loving in disagreement and realizing that if it’s not essential to eternal things and the gospel, then we should be able to agreeably disagree in love. A Bible study teacher said this once and she got it from someone:

    In essentials: Unity
    In non-essentials: Liberty
    In all things: Charity

  8. BettieG

    These are all such excellent thoughts Lisa. And truly, I feel that only the Spirit of God can change our minds in matters of the heart. He holds all truth, and I have found out that I am not able to bring that change unless HE has already begun the process of softening and stirring. Even in myself, when I want to change my mind, I can’t do that either. I’ve just gone back to my old ways, until I allow Him to soften my own heart, and He reshapes and transforms my mind. Even the willingness to change is a gift from Him. Thanks for these reminders today, to love and to pray.

  9. Jean Wise

    This is an important topic that needs to be on the front burner of every conversation. So interesting what you shared. We see the world and hear others through so many filters that block true heart to heart discussion. Maybe more listening and trying to understand their point of view is the first step.

  10. floyd

    Good stuff. I think you’re, and your friend’s, approach is the beginning of change. It takes humility to not have that burning quest to be right. And that, at least in my life, has been the beginning of change for everyone, including me…

  11. David

    Perhaps we can’t change someone else’s mind when we are alienated from each other, assuming the other is wrong and we are right, and we think we are making some kind of medical or humantarian intervention. Perhaps the first step is to find common ground and togetherness. While working together towards a common goal, all of our minds will be changed (in different ways). As you concluded, love and trust are more important than agreement.

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