Is It Hypocritical to Change Your Mind on Big Issues?
Over at Third Mom, the very lovely Margie addressed the topic of whether or not changing your mind about something really big and important makes you a hypocrite. This post was inspired by an anonymous commenter who said that Margie is a hypocrite, in response to another post, because she likely believes things now as a parent with adult children differently than she did when she was a prospective parent and newly adopting parent years ago.
The question and her response touched on a topic near and dear to me as someone who has "changed her mind" about many things over the past few years. Is it ever OK to change your mind about something important? Is it hypocritical when you do?
I grew up in a small, mostly white town, and went to a small, mostly white, conservative Christian school which was also politically extremely Conservative. Although several individuals have since come out now that they are adults, I never knew anyone (or knew that I knew anyone) who is gay. I did not have very many friends with disabilities, other than learning challenges, because my private school was not accessible. "Feminism" was a very, very dirty word. I was never purposefully ignorant to people but I grew up in a bubble where I did not have any tools or experience in embracing individuals that I am different than, all-the-while (this is the irony) feeling very different myself in many ways because I am adopted.
So I go off to college; it has a slightly more liberal version of Christianity but still many of the same themes. I overheard some women of color who were students at the school complain about the lack of diversity there at the $30,000+ per year school where my roommate was the daughter of a doctor and got a brand-new laptop every few months because she kept stepping on hers or losing them. We counted one time; she had over 72 pairs of designer jeans--just a few staples from her closet at home. It was a very white, very rich, very Christian setting. What in the world is diversity? I wondered to myself.
I was starting not to like my major very much so the following year, I switched to a much bigger, and much less expensive school so that I wouldn't end up in such an enormous amount of debt for a career I wasn't even sure I would like. I finished there and enrolled in a third University for my current major. During these two experiences, I learned very quickly that I am not the only person on the planet. I now have friends who are gay, straight, poly, trans, and bi. I have friends of a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. I have friends with disabilities. I have friends who have varying religions and some with no religion at all.
Having friends who believe differently than I do has helped me see other viewpoints because I love those in my life and I want to learn and understand what is important to them. It's not about me being the "typical" or "in the majority" person being so wonderful as to "accept," or "be tolerant" of others. I don't like that view and it's one afforded to me by unearned privilege. It's about me, a fellow human being, being in relationships with others and working together in an overall community of human beings where we are so gracious as to accept each other; being so blessed as to be accepted by others myself.
So with all of this new information and my beliefs and values clearly changing, I had to decide what it was I really did believe. I am no longer a conservative Christian I am now in fact extremely liberal. My political views are more liberal than not. I am proud to say I am a feminist. Do I think that people who believe what I once did are bad people or wrong? No. But my personality, plus what experiences I've had, adding to it what information I've learned, never forgetting to include maturity and, hopefully, wisdom, that comes with aging has, very uniquely, built what views I hold today.
Someone going through the same growing process (which is never really the same person-to-person) may believe something very differently but their process of growing and learning and their conclusions are no less valid. We may not agree but that doesn't mean that it is a reflection on who I am or who someone else is as a person.
I remember the day that was the first time I really had to tell my (adoptive) mom that I did not believe many of the religious principles I had been raised with any longer. Remember, my mom, as many other Christians, views her particular denomination and belief system within Christianity as having the most correct traditions and interpretations when it comes to discerning what God wants and what pleases him most. Christianity is also (generally) a religion where, if you don't believe, or to some, if you don't believe exactly the right things, you will go to hell. So imagine what it was like for me to tell my mom "I'm still a Christian but I just don't believe some of those things any more." It broke her heart. I had to tell her because I started going to a liberal Presbyterian church; a denomination she can't stand. Did I do it to hurt her? Because I didn't value what she taught me? Because I didn't respect her and learned nothing as I was growing up?
No. I employed the most important lesson she taught me as I was growing; to think for myself and do what I felt was right. What I feel is right is right for me; not necessarily for anyone else. I was taught to value my own relationship with God and how I felt he led me rather than another human beings' interpretation. So even though my beliefs are now different than hers, I am still valuing what she taught me. Even though I had changed my mind.
It still broke her heart. And telling her my changing religious beliefs was still much (much, much) easier than telling her how my views on adoption had changed. Changing my views on adoption felt like changing my religion. It had once been this infallible, unquestionable, nearly anthropomorphic, entity to me that people believe in the goodness of that now, to me, is no longer so. That opinion change she found out by accident. That I never wanted to tell her. Ever. I know I should have but I was hoping to hide them from her forever.
Of course, she knew I valued my original heritage and wanted to reunite. But I did not want to tell her the incredible amount of problems I had seen in adoption or the pain many people were in because of it, what I had learned about since joining the reform community, talking to other "triad" members, and doing a lot of reading of credible, peer-reviewed, sources. I was once an unbelievably militant "all adoption is wonderful, for any reason, at all times, I love adoption" adoptee; I felt so embarrassed to change my mind. The extent of people (other than my parents) around me asking me about my adoption was usually done to prove some point that I was more than happy to oblige. "Amanda's adopted and we're just so glad to have her here!" they'd nod my way when teaching classrooms full of children that Pro-life is the proper political stance. I'd proudly nod. That was my role. That's what being adopted was; lucky to be here. How do you allow yourself to be the proud poster child for adoption whom your agency brags about (yes, and I gave them permission to at one point) and then say "I don't believe that any more? I changed my mind."
I remember the first time a friend of mine told me she was pregnant (she wasn't married) after we both had years of schooling that had drilled into our brains that you do not have sex before marriage and you sure as heck do not get pregnant before marriage. Girls who got pregnant in my school were expelled and were not permitted to attend school functions with their friends and former classmates if visibly pregnant. She winced as she told me the news and all but passed out in relief when I hugged her and instead of lecturing her, asked her if she had thought of any names. I had changed my mind.
As I regaled the story in the past on this blog, my (adoptive) mother had gotten wind about my changing views on adoption, thanks to Facebook broadcasting my posts on friend's walls in the live feed, and confronted me about it. Why? For the same reason other people make assumptions about adoption. Me saying various things like "we really need to take a look at adoption" translated to her as "anti-adoption," "I hate being adopted," "I hate my parents whom adoption gave to me." So we talked about it; it was a painful first conversation. I no longer believed that adoption was a good of an end as any--that, no matter what, even if a mother could have been helped in other ways, an adoption still takes place, it is good because adoption is good. As a new mother, I knew how I would want to have been helped if I were pregnant and in need. As an adoptee, I wanted to be respected in adoption. Yes, adoption can help in many instances but the difference is that I no longer saw it as a universally fitting response to any instance. As someone passionate about helping other human beings, I wanted to make adoption as good as I know it can be. I had changed my mind.
It was a painful series of conversations full of me assuring her that this had nothing to do with her. In sharing what I had learned, she became open to new information because she loved me and wanted to see where I was coming from. Understanding me was more important to her as a mother first, member of adoption second, than upholding an overall glowing view of an institution. Her daughter, whose opinions she valued and whose character she had helped nurture, was saying something she had never heard before and she wanted to listen. And you know what? After a while. She changed her mind too.
My mom and I don't see eye-to-eye on everything all the time but she agrees with adoption ethics and reforming adoption. She has driven me to the workshops I've done on Adoptee Rights. She has proudly told her friends "my daughter is doing amazing things in fixing adoption!" (which is an overstatement but hey, that's what moms do).
Now, this isn't a slam on that anon whom, Margie will agree, asked a valid question. But it is something many adoption reformers can probably identify with worry about. Do I look hypocritical for changing views I have had all my life? Being hypocritical is saying one thing and doing another or preaching one thing while you, behind the scenes, do something quite the opposite. But learning new information and changing your views as you grow? It's a normal part of being human.
Has it ever been hard for you to tell someone you changed your mind?
Amanda is a mom, wife, Social Work student, feminist, Adoptee Rights activist, and adult adoptee. She blogs about adoption through narrative sharing, discussing research and news, and exploring topics of social justice, policy reform, and oppression in various aspects of life, usually as they intersect in adoption. Her blog, The Declassified Adoptee, was named a Top 20 Adoption Blog by Adoptive Families Magazine.