“If I change my mind, then I’d have to admit I’ve been wrong.”
He was a good man: humble and kind. He had lived for more than 80 years and had a gentle wisdom about him. So when my friend made this statement, my jaw dropped. How on earth can anyone think that way? I marveled.
But then I remembered – that used to be me.
I used to believe that “Right” and “Wrong” were Black and White; that if I was right, and you disagreed with me, then you must be wrong.
Now I believe all of us are probably mostly a little bit right and a whole lot wrong – about a whole lot of things.
I used to believe truth was a small fragile thing that needed to be defended.
Now I believe Truth is a rainbow with infinite colors and facets that takes a lifetime to explore. Truth doesn’t need to be defended; it needs to be discovered.
I used to believe being wrong would have dire (even eternal) consequences.
Now I believe being wrong is just one more way to learn; one more way to realize that – of course – we mortals will have incomplete, inadequate understanding. It’s one more way to keep me humble.
I used to believe women couldn’t/shouldn’t/better not be preachers.
Now (I do believe!) I am one.
Change is a fact of life. They say our cells die off and regenerate at an astonishing rate. Scientists suggest that almost all the cells in our body are completely replaced about every 7-10 years. We go about our business and don’t even recognize how radically, how quickly our body is changing every day of our lives.
But in other ways, change is disorienting, intimidating, frightening. Changing deeply held beliefs; changing long entrenched habits; changing fundamental assumptions … sometimes we choose this path of intentional growth. Or sometimes life forces us into it.
For me, Dorothy’s tornado was seminary. I never imagined such a wide rainbow world existed and I was challenged to explore ideas that made me absolutely uncomfortable. I was challenged to uncover my embedded, unexamined assumptions and expose them to the light of critical thinking. I was challenged to test my theories of understanding according to standards of coherence: if I say I believe A and B, then those different things still must be in relationship with each other. Even paradoxical thinking has a core consistency about it.
But it was this hard work of changing my mind that led me to a change of heart as well. In order to be consistent in my beliefs, I had to pay attention to how I lived out the convictions of my life. I had to be intentional about how I acted in real time and real space with real people.
I used to believe people are responsible for their own actions.
Now I believe – in addition to personal responsibility – all of us in this society are responsible for one another.
I used to believe Jesus’ call to “love our neighbor” and to “do unto others” applied only to individuals.
Now I believe – in addition to private charity – all of us in this society must create public policies that cultivate an environment that is just and equitable; where all people can thrive.
I used to believe everyone has free will, complete freedom to choose their own way.
Now I believe many people, maybe most people on the planet are born into circumstances and raised in situations that severely limit their choices. Free will often exists within very small parameters.
I used to believe our civil governments had the right to impose morality on its citizens – for the “common good.”
Now I believe the core ethics that should under gird our civil laws must be the moral foundation originally set forth in our Constitution: unity, justice, safety, well being and liberty. It is these values – for the common good – that should shape our laws, not the private morality of any religion or any special group of people.
Changing my mind brought about a change of heart which in turn led to a change in my political, cultural and social values.
It started with a tornado which turned my thinking upside down and right side up. It has continued slowly and persistently as I have grown. Like an acorn with a hard shell, I needed to let go of my rigid limits and my hardened certainties before I could push through the dark soil and reach for the sun. I am not the same person I was a year ago. A year from now, I hope I will not be the same person I am today.
My friend had trouble admitting he could be wrong. I know many good, kind-hearted people who live in that Black and White world with him. But that doesn’t work for me anymore. For me, these days, it feels pretty good to admit I’m wrong, that I don’t know everything, that I have a lot to learn. It keeps me humble. And it feels very good to live in this wide, rainbow, Technicolor world.
I could never go back.
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry at Brite Divinity School (TCU) in Ft. Worth TX. She is a volunteer at Coffee Party USA and contributes articles regularly to the Coffee Party Facebook page.