I heard it yet again last week at the tail end of a conversation, “You make a very compelling point.” I did not think the information shared was overly insightful, nor did I believe the argument that sound. Regardless, I had compelled another to believe the point I was making…or had I? What was it about the case I presented?

  1. Was it the arguably anecdotal data?
  2. Was it that he perceived me as an expert on the topic making my opinion a fact in his mind?
  3. Was it simply that the position I was sharing aligned with his, thereby strengthening his preconceived solution?

I have found over time that the question most likely to be answered with a resounding “Yes” is question #3…people find compelling that which they already believe. Very rarely do we change our beliefs when presented with information that contradicts our current opinions, no matter how sound the argument. We don’t have to try too hard to see evidence of this fact each and every day. Whether it’s politics, religion, climate change, nutrition, economics, or even ethics, many people tend to see merit only in those arguments that align with what they already believe. We can look at the very same data and arrive at very different assessments, each likely in accordance with our preconceived notions. For that reason, it is extremely important to consider the opinions of those who see things differently; but only if we are seriously incorporating their perspective into our decision making calculus and acknowledging that what we once thought may, in fact, be wrong or at the very least no longer have merit.

Those who limit their news input to Fox News (just an example) find Bill O’Reilly compelling. Those who wanted to believe Saddam had chemical weapons found the arguments presented compelling. Those who believe our school system is holding our nation back will not be compelled to believe otherwise. I can say those things as a matter of fact because too many of us only hear what we want to hear, only agree with those who have a proven record of agreeing with us, and filter information inputs to those that re-enforce our current opinions. We like to be told what we want to hear and then congratulate another who shares our opinion on being right.

In some cases, we even refuse to allow ourselves to believe something contrary to what we claim to know.¬†We know that aerobic exercise is vital to our fitness level, yet many remain sedentary. We know that smoking causes cancer, yet many ignore the many warning labels. We know that lying is wrong, yet many have trouble being honest. I could go on with countless other examples, but suffice to say that our actions do not always align with what we know, but they are heavily influenced by what we believe. We believe that a magic pill might give us that physique that we don’t want to work for. We believe that one more cigarette won’t be the one that kills us. We believe that lying is only wrong if we get caught.

I have had many sidebars about the differences between knowing, believing, and doing. Some get pretty deep. I invite you to think about the opinions you hold and whether they are based on knowing, believing, or both. No matter how you bin each opinion, assess how your actions support what you claim to know/believe. Now think about if/how you might be swayed to change your level of commitment to that which you know/believe, remembering that an unwavering commitment to something or someone is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it always the right thing. Care enough to question your convictions and respect others who may give you a reason to do just that.

We all have some strong beliefs and we all have facts that we know to be true. That said, we have a responsibility to consider the beliefs of others, to act on what we know, and to open our minds to the point that we may very well be compelled to believe something that we currently don’t.

  • When was the last time you changed someone’s opinion?
  • When was the last time someone else changed your opinion?
  • How open-minded are you?