The mind doesn’t follow the facts. Facts, as John Adams put it, are stubborn things, but our minds are even more stubborn. Doubt isn’t always resolved in the face of facts for even the most enlightened among us, however credible and convincing those facts might be.
As a result of the well-documented confirmation bias, we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and overvalue evidence that confirms them. We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments on the opposing side. As a result, our opinions solidify, and it becomes increasingly harder to disrupt established patterns of thinking.
If you have any doubts about the power of the confirmation bias, think back to the last time you Googled a question. Did you meticulously read each link to get a broad objective picture? Or did you simply skim through the links looking for the page that confirms what you already believed was true? And let’s face it, you’ll always find that page, especially if you’re willing to click through to Page 12 on the Google search results.
The key is to trick the mind by giving it an excuse. Convince your own mind (or your friend) that your prior decision or prior belief was the right one given what you knew, but now that the underlying facts have changed, so should the mind.
At that point, the mind will dig in rather than give in. Once you’ve equated someone’s beliefs with idiocracy, changing that person’s mind will require nothing short of an admission that they are unintelligent. And that’s an admission that most minds aren’t willing to make.
But here’s the problem. When your beliefs are entwined with your identity, changing your mind means changing your identity. That’s a really hard sell.
This subtle verbal tweak tricked my mind into thinking that my arguments and me were not one and the same. Obviously, I was the one who came up with these arguments, but once they were out of my body, they took a life of their own. They became separate, abstract objects that I could view with some objectivity.
The challenge is to figure out what that thing is and adjust your frequency. If employment is the primary concern of the Detroit auto worker, showing him images of endangered penguins (as adorable as they may be) or Antarctica’s melting glaciers will get you nowhere. Instead, show him how renewable energy will provide job security to his grandchildren. Now, you’ve got his attention.
Make a point to befriend people who disagree with you. Expose yourself to environments where your opinions can be challenged, as uncomfortable and awkward as that might be.
But it’s well worth the effort.