“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I love words, and because I love words, I get defensive when they are misused. (And yes, I know how dorky this sounds.)
I don’t mean that I’m the type who gets all bent-out-of-shape when someone uses “who” instead of “whom,” or “can I” instead of “may I.” I get defensive when people use terms like “pro-abortion” rather than “pro-choice,” or “anti-family” instead of “pro-equality.” It irks me so much, I find myself defending groups I do not even associate or agree with, when they are mischaracterized by the willful abuse of language. Calling the pro-choice movement “pro-abortion,” for example, immediately creates a hostile environment in which to carry on a conversation. No one that I’ve ever met that identifies themselves as pro-choice has ever been pro-abortion, and to insinuate that they are is insulting, and is evidence of how disinterested one is in hearing the convictions of others. Just because we do not agree does not give me the right to characterize you as something that you’re not.
So. When I hear the term “flip-flopping” being tossed around (in the context of political or moral convictions or beliefs), I usually become irritated. Because when people say so-and-so is a “flip-flopper,” the connotation is usually that the person in question is pandering to their audience, in an effort to remain likable by all involved parties. The connotation is that the person in question is a shill. Or a ideological whore. Whatever floats your boat. And sometimes that is genuinely the case, and in those circumstances, I’m all for “calling a spade, a spade.” But usually? Usually people throw out the term “flip-flopping” as a way of discounting the journey one has made to come to the conclusion one is at.
A personal example: I’ve often been called a flip-flopper because of my conversion from Atheism to Christianity. Those that label me a flip-flipper, in that regard, are looking to devalue the experiences that led me to a point of conversion. They are establishing security in their beliefs, by choosing not to acknowledge my experiences, and instead, insinuating that I haven’t thought the whole thing through entirely, or that I am weak-minded, because I changed my mind. It is much easier to label me as as weak-minded, spiritual flip-flopper, than to consider that I’ve actually changed my mind based off new information and experiences.
In the same way, I hear people calling politicians flip-floppers all the time. Yes, sometimes politicians are flip-floppers–in that they’re compromising themselves for the sake of winning votes–but often, they’re just changing their minds based off of new and better information. (The way any sane person should.)
What’s So Threatening About a Changed-Mind?
To acknowledge that someone weighed an issue thoroughly, and then changed their mind, is to acknowledge that you might change your mind also. And for many, many of us, the very idea that there is a possibility that we might someday change our mind, is all-out frightening, because so much of our identity is wrapped-up in the labels we stick on ourselves. So, as a preemptive defense, rather than asking someone how they came to a point where they changed their mind, we quickly call them a “flip-flopper,” and continue sheltering ourselves from new experiences and information. (And if you ask me, that’s no way to live.) And please understand that I am not pointing fingers here: just as many Christians do this as Atheists, and just as many Republicans do this as Democrats. We are all equally guilty of not listening to the stories and journeys of others, and considering their implications.
Seeing the Value in Others’ Experiences
This is all to ask that the next time you’re about to label someone as a “flip-flopper,” that you stop for a moment and consider what you’re saying. Do you really believe that the person in question is pandering to an audience, or is there a chance that the person actually changed their mind? And if there’s a chance that the person legitimately changed their mind, what makes their journey any less worthy or valid than your own? And, if you’re in a place to speak directly to the person in question, maybe ask them how they came to their decision, because I guarantee you there is a great story there. There is so much to be learned from the journeys of others, if we would only ask them. We will find ourselves much better able to communicate with others, if we simply make an effort to understand their story, rather than shutting them down, and moving on. We will find ourselves better able to love others if we would only listen to their journeys with open hearts.
When we humble ourselves, and open our ears to those that we do not typically align with, we’re venturing out into fertile ground, and that’s the first step to cultivating a non-adversarial relationship. And if there is anything this country needs, its fewer adversaries, and more allies.
When was the last time you listened to the journey of someone with an opposing perspective? Have you ever shared an unexpected connection with someone of an opposing perspective? What was that like? Share your stories in the comments below. 🙂
(I’ll be back tomorrow with a little bit more on Sincerity.)
Let’s be friends!