Friday, May 15, 2009

Peace of mind worth the price

A post entitled The Impact of Change on the blog A Shift in Action got me thinking about whether, how, and why people change their beliefs and perspectives as they mature. When you get on the back nine of life, you tend to think more about these things.

The post points out that the people around you may not take kindly to such change, particularly if your new point of view conflicts with theirs, and this can be a powerful deterrent to standing up for what you have come to believe is right.

I mean, you and your buddies have been shaking your heads for years over those crazy beliefs held by the "other guys," and now you're thinking those beliefs aren't so crazy after all.

But, straddling the line is usually a pretty uncomfortable position, so at some point you pretty much have to pick a side.

The best recent example, mentioned in the above post, is Senator Arlen Specter who, on April 28, declared that he was no longer a Republican and would henceforth self-identify as a Democrat. In the U.S, this was a really big deal because Specter was a big wheel in the party, former member of the Judiciary Committee, frequent party spokesman on TV public affairs shows, and so on.

His Republican friends were, as you might expect, not amused.

I applaud Specter for publicly announcing his reoriented beliefs in the certain knowledge that he would take a lot of heat. That takes guts.

There is a myth out there that suggests change is impossible after a certain age, that lifelong opinions are so deeply entrenched that people won't change them even when confronted with contrary evidence. Instead, the myth says, they will dismiss the evidence, or find a way to rationalize their way our of the logical bind.

Apparently not. Specter is 79 years old.

Holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously is called "cognitive dissonance" and it's not that uncommon.

For example, if you want to pay lower taxes while receiving more, and better, government services, you have cognitive dissonance.

Other examples: Want a lower golf score, but refuse to practice; fear lung cancer, but continue to smoke; believe all people are equal, but don't believe in mixed marriages; want to lose weight, but refuse to diet or exercise.

You probably have a few of your own. Me, too.

Anyway, hats off to Arlen for being true to himself. My guess is that he has been wrestling with this for a while, saw the end of the line approaching, and decided it was time.

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