How We Come To Our Opinions

When was the last time you heard something that made you change your mind on a particular topic?

Maybe it was after coming across a new fact, or hearing a cogent argument that gave you new insight, or maybe just your own reconsideration of what you know.

Or maybe you don’t seek new information or points of view, but affirmation of what you already believe.

That was the gist of a discussion on a recent NPR Saturday morning show. Unfortunately, I only caught part of the show while driving, and can’t recall the show or host (lost in the blur of the daughter’s wedding day), but the basic premise has stuck with me, and I’ve been thinking about how I come to beliefs and opinions.

Perhaps because I’m an independent (lower-case i) and have views that could be called conservative on some issues and liberal on others, I tend to seek out new ideas and facts, many of which end up challenging my views. I always appreciate a smart argument backed with strong and honest facts. In this it helps to not be tied to any ideology.

Or as I say of political talking heads on radio and TV, whether conservative or liberal: I’d hate to wake up every morning knowing already the answer to questions yet to be asked.

Or as James Young, who formerly headed public TV in Hawaii, has said (with tongue firmly in cheek): “Now that my mind is made up, all I need are some reasons.”

I’m not sure when the last 180-degree turn came in my thinking on any topic. Instead, it’s more shifting nuances of perceptions and ideas. The biggest sudden turn is probably a change in the way I look at China’s economic future, as well as America’s, based on a couple of recent articles in different publications:

China’s march to world domination may not be as assured/imminent as some people think, and America’s future is not as grim as some would have you believe.

As we proceed from our recent primary to November’s general election, I will posit that the more sources of information you bring into your life, and the more challenged your thinking is, the more informed a citizen you are.

And the easier it is to make wise choices while wielding those most powerful of tools, a ballot and a pen. • When word came via email to the MidWeek office that both Time and CNN were suspending Fareed Zakaria for admittedly plagiarizing a New Yorker article on gun control (that was published just this past April, for cryin’ out loud), I nearly got sick to my stomach. Though not nearly as sick as Zakaria must be.

In my mind he was one of the world’s best journalists — smart, practical, centrist — and last year I was pleased to bring him into MidWeek. Now I’m announcing we’ve canceled his column.

It’s a basic part of every publication’s contracts with its writers — as it is with MidWeek‘s local columnists and freelancers — that the writer guarantees they will file only original, previously unpublished works. In our business, the only thing more damning than stealing another writer’s work is fabricating facts, sources and quotes.

Zakaria’s actions are as stupid as they are sad.