Why We Don’t Change Our Minds

Deeply held beliefs can leave us struggling to open our minds to new ideas and perspectives. We delve into this topic and ask what we can do?

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.” 

Thus spoke Leo Tolstoy the great thinker and writer.

In a country with hardly any immigrants, the conversation in a pub goes, “immigrants are a burden on our country, and much worse”. 

These are the masses who read and repeat even though facts and statistics may speak differently. 

After all, it’s a good idea to quickly pick up a headline or two from the tabloids before starting out for that evening with one’s cronies so there’s something to speak about. 


Passing Ideas

Unfortunately these ideas get passed on not only from person to person but also generation to generation, and this is how winners in politics emerge. Partly because they are the ones successful in planting misleading ideas and thoughts to a great extent..

Here is a fact based on published data. The average income of a person of Indian origin in the US is $ 126,891 while the median household income of white Americans is $65,902. So guess who contributes more to society in terms of GDP per capita and taxes. 

Another little number, 17.1% of the doctors in the US are of Asian origin according to the report from The Association of American Medical Colleges.  

The percentage is relevant given that of the total, Asians comprise 5.6% of the population in that country.

There are close to 200,000 Ukrainians working in the Czech Republic. A fair percentage of them are well qualified but for want of better opportunities many of them are involved in road building and construction which they do without grumbling. 

And then I hear a well educated man saying that he was surprised to see a Ukrainian robotics expert at their auto ancillary manufacturing facilities. 


Numbering Up

Statistics and numbers can go on and on but reality on the ground appears to speak otherwise. 

Humans are an extremely social species and since social interaction is important, we often agree with our acquaintances, friends and associates because we do not wish to appear anti-social by disagreeing with the majority. 

However, the desire to be social is just one of the reasons we get deflected from facts and stay diverted. We shall come to some more reasons a little later. 

The worst part being we ourselves skew and bias our thinking towards groups and subjects after such discussions. At times it can be harmless and other times it can take on dangerous and even sinister proportions. 

Let’s look at the case of those parents who believe that vaccination causes autism and go on to risk the lives of their offspring based merely on the misconception they’ve created in their own minds. 

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Mindful: People’s opinions can be deeply held due to society

Some scientists have made their best efforts to correct the situation. To what extent have they succeeded is unknown. This study delves into: “The widespread prevalence and persistence of misinformation in contemporary societies, such as the false belief that there is a link between childhood vaccinations and autism, is a matter of public concern. 

“For example, the myths surrounding vaccinations, which prompted some parents to withhold immunisation from their children, have led to a marked increase in vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as unnecessary public expenditure on research and public-information campaigns aimed at rectifying the situation.”


People’s History

Our history is abundant in supply of great liars whether it’s the likes of some of our great leaders or even swindlers who depend on their flagrant and audacious lies so long as they are able to exploit the basic characteristic of humans who want to be trusting or how would con artists like Charles Ponzi, Frank Abignale, Bernie Madoff and even many of the successful politicians get away with it. 

People believed in them. They even went on to believe that global warming is a farce.

Where does the derision for hard facts and data come from? Is it only because we are social or is it also  because it’s convenient due to our own pre-existing thought process and ideology? 

This may relate to our own views on religion, politics and so many other subjects.

On a day-to-day basis it is far more difficult to help a person change her or his mind so long as that mind has been conditioned since childhood and later by circumstances, that facts are quickly forsaken.

Most people are convinced that issues such as crime, racism, sexual assaults, poverty are on the rise. Facts and figures, however, go on to show that all of these have been declining.

It’s also popular among people to say that today’s youth are selfish while the truth is far from it and here I would like to quote Professor Laura Otis.

She said: “When I read the resumés of students today as I prepare to write letters of recommendation for them, I am amazed at how hard they are working to help people other than themselves.

“From everything I can see as a professor, people age 15-30 are much more motivated to serve other people than they were in the 1970s to the 1990s, when I was that age.”

There’s hope, a large percentage of the youth of today are certainly more grounded, have a broader outlook, are better travelled resulting in curiosity and appreciation of other cultures and so many things in life and by my personal experience are willing to listen and talk and not remain cemented in dogmas.

Photos: Shutterstock

Hear more from Professor Laura Otis in our wide-ranging interview:

From Science to Literature: An Interview with Professor Laura Otis

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