Bound to my word (apparently)

When a person articulates an idea, they are less likely to change their minds because they must first admit that they were initially wrong. Maintaining an erroneous notion, such as a first impression, causes less anxiety than admitting an error and adopting another position.

I found a couple things in these two sentences fascinating. 1). We have to be careful what we articulate! The opinions we say out loud, no matter how tentative, whether in speech or on paper, become entrenched to us as what we think, based solely on the fact that we said them. While there may be a neurological reason for this, I imagine the reason is primarily social. By establishing ourselves to others as the owner and articulater of an opinion cements that opinion as part of our world-interpretative framework and we thus form intellectual commitments to it.

In other words, it is not just an opinion. It is my opinion. Others see me as having this opinion. Me being seen as having this opinion changes the way people think about me, and thus challenges to the opinion feel like challenges to me personally.

Do we have opinions, or are we seeing ourselves as being the collection of our opinions? Why do the “having” and the “being” get so mixed up in stated thought?

As someone who expresses herself best in writing, I can see how I might (do) attach too much personal meaning and self-worth to what I write, to the ideas I produce or repeat or simply write out even so just to analyze and consider them. Perhaps I view what I write as an extension of myself or a reflection of my intellectual abilities. (*checks internally* yep, that tracks) As such, to deviate from my established opinions means that I start to see who I was and what I was able to do intellectually as being wrong. Faulty. Lesser-than.

Yikes. That is not the attitude, conscious or no, that I want to cultivate with the ideas I articulate. Call me a hypocrite (HEGEL YOU BASTARD), but I want to embrace what Hegel realized was true about the human condition — we, as well as events in history and the arc of history itself, are the products of dialectical development and these continual movements back and forth between different ideas, the bubbling up, expanding, and bursting of new ideas in a way that both sublates and moves beyond the original ideas. So I don’t want to get “stuck” on one idea just because I articulated it, or just because I formed it. That kills both intellectual creativity and truth-finding.

The second thing that struck me in the quote was the emphasis on anxiety. I had to laugh. Apparently holding onto initial notions, whether true or not, causes less anxiety than changing our minds. This absolutely makes sense from a psychological standpoint, but also SIGH. I AM ALREADY ANXIOUS ABOUT MY EXISTING OPINIONS AND HOW THEY MIGHT BE WRONG. Now I find I am also anxious when I think about changing those opinions for the better?! FFS. I guess I am destined to be a ball of anxiety until the day I die (no matter how hard my work gives me free opportunities to get zen).

Personal angst aside, the anxiety angle makes sense. If I attach too much of my identity and self-worth to any one idea or opinion I happen to speak out loud, then of course I am going to be anxious at the thought of giving it up. Whatever I do to the opinion after I state it is, by extension of my existential and intellectual commitment to the idea, what I am doing to myself. What I do to it, I do to my sense of self, or my estimation of my own worth. My treatment of the idea is no longer just about the idea — perhaps at one point it stops being about the idea entirely.

On a personal level, I see this happening in my personal life. I used to be a Christian. A strong Christian. A committed, thoughtful, brave, questioning-yet-robustly-faithful Christian. And a lot of my relationships were based on sharing that faith (that set of opinions or ideas). So to admit to those around me that I was no longer a Christian, certainly of the kind they acknowledged as the “right kind” of Christian (sigh), freaked me out. It was very anxiety-inducing because I knew to admit my changed mind, my revised opinions, was to risk losing some relationships.

Also, to admit my emerging rejection of belief meant that I was putting myself solidly in the “broken” or “intellectually deficient” or “morally corrupt” camp for all these people with whom I had shared Christian-centered relationships. I know very well what they think about non-believers. So to admit my new, sincerely-found, blood-sweat-and-tears-resisted, emerging beliefs, meant those pejoratives would be applied to me as a person. Because of my new opinions. That has not been fun. It has really hurt to know that’s how some of my loved ones view me, when I know so deeply all the sincerity, pain, struggle, loneliness, and desperate desire for truth and love that went into my intellectual change.

I could write so much more, but I’ll save it for another post. Our opinions are so deeply social and interpersonal, and when we state one it takes on personal meaning and significance about us far beyond the opinion itself. Any stated opinion, once it’s said out loud, becomes so much more complex than its conceptual content, and that should give us a moment of awed pause.

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