Changing Your Mind

“I never change my mind at all.” — Donald Trump

“A foolish consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”  — Walt Whitman

“When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?” — John Maynard Keynes


Many business websites and publications seem committed to the idea that we be consistent. Without consistency, they say, you’ll never be successful. Some think it’s good to be consistent, others think it’s good to be more flexible. Certainly, it’s good to be ethically and morally consistent. Explaining why you are anti-abortion but pro-capital punishment could take a lot of time, but it should help you clarify your value system.

Lots of people seem to believe that changing one’s mind is a sign of weakness, only for losers; however, flexibility will  be required to deal with a number of the challenges we face. With the pace of change accelerating, we need to be ready to adapt. Darwin could tell you what happens to those who don’t adapt. Will we adapt ourselves to the climate or will we adapt the climate to ourselves?

That brings us to Emerson, who may be the least understood of the four people quoted above. He cautions us against being consistent simply for the sake of looking consistent to other people. That’s the “foolish consistency.” He argues that we should be more concerned about our values and priorities than what other people think of us. The word hob-goblin is no longer widely understood, but it means something like today’s use of zombie. That’s to say, a hob-goblin is something very nasty and scary, and it’s looking for you. Reliability and self discipline may be more valuable than being consistent. When the facts change, what do you do?

Fear of changing one’s mind must have some sort of phobia named after it. So far I haven’t found that one. Anyway, don’t be afraid of contradiction, and don’t be afraid of what others think about your views. Your mind is large enough to handle it.


Author: Craig Butcher

Craig Butcher is an award-winning educator who has taught critical thinking skills for more than two decades. In addition, he has worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer and has been a top-rated broadcaster.