Shifting Opinions

Over the weekend as I sat in the hotel bar I got an opportunity to witness a social phenomenon, I found it quite interesting and would like to get your opinions on it.

Although I have never studied sociology or psychology academically I am quite a fan of people watching. A guy, possibly from the “smoking cessation workshop” was magnetically fascinating to me. It wasn’t just his massive frame and booming voice but what he was saying. In isolation his conversations were not out of the ordinary, they were the sorts of conversations you would hear in a bar anywhere. Loud, opinionated, and full of unsubstantiated “facts”. The part that interested me was how this 400lb social butterfly would change where he stood on any issue depending on who he was talking to. Not just subtly, moderating his more extreme stances or taking the edges off for the more timid audience. No, he actually would switch sides on debates or swing from cautious optimism to overwhelming cynicism. 

Luckily for me he would always hold court in the same place and his audience would gravitate towards him (perhaps his bulk caused a localised gravitational field). Perhaps with some self knowledge of his tactic he chose the far end of the room. Little did he realise it would not matter where in the room he chose, his voice carried right the way to the bar at the other side. Yes there was a lot of alcohol being consumed but surely another member of his party must have also discovered what was happening? Nobody seemed to mind.

As I listened to another complete conversational about-face I wondered if this man was a more exaggerated version of the rest of us. Perhaps we all do this to an extent? There are certain things we might do or say comfortably amongst friends that you would not dare in front of your in-laws for example? Perhaps when visiting your Gran you might reduce the number and frequency of cuss words that escape your lips?

I would like to think I am flexible with my view points on world affairs and am willing to bend my opinion when faced with a good argument or new evidence. Having said that I doubt I have ever changed opinion so radically or quickly. If something seems right though it should be ok to change opinion. There is actually nothing wrong with deciding you think differently when you think about it, otherwise what is the point of trying to persuade another to your point of view? If you think less of someone for changing opinion then why attempt to change it? Flip-flopping is seen as a bad thing, especially when done so swiftly and obviously as the man I was watching, but could it be a valuable, laudable trait? Perhaps it is good to have compulsive empathy?

So what does this have to do with blogging?

Well for a start if this man was a blogger then he would almost certainly need to be using a pseudonym. After going on record with his first opinion he might need another whole blog to put forth his new one. Perhaps this fear of sharing your real, most extreme opinions is why there are so many blogs written under aliases?

But the main thought I had relating this subject to blogging was how visible a change of opinion is when there is possibly years worth of audit trail for all to read. There is not just a momentary conversation but a whole backlog of thoughts and ideas to mine. My wife is an expert at remembering things I have done or said for the 14 years of our relationship but even she is no match for a quick Google.

So on the one hand, I was thinking, it is ok to change your opinion, on the other people think flip-flopping is bad. Presidential races have been affected by the accusation. In social circles it is regarded as being “two-faced”. What is the solution? I guess whenever you change your opinion in public you need to explain what you used to think, what you believe now and what changed your mind. Doesn’t seem a very elegant approach but neither does sticking to old patterns of thinking when faced with new ideas.

What do you think? Stick to your guns or flip flop? What ought a blogger do and which is better or worse? Do you blog under your own name? Why? Is it ok to shift opinions and do you moderate your thoughts in case they cause offense?

Please comment, I would really like to know …

12 thoughts on “Shifting Opinions

  1. Sometimes it is much easier to publish with your real name because it is soooo hard to find a good pseudonym and a fitting tagline that describes that false personality.

    I am pretty boring. I am publishing with my real name all the time 🙂

    I would love to have a pseudonym tagline like “The Rock Chick Femme Fatale Traveling Gypsy Circus Has Landed” from Miss Bandit.

    But I am lazy …

    What do you think would be my pseudonym?
    And the fitting tagline?

  2. One day when you are a fully qualified clinical psychologist what will you make of the phrase “I had a mad and passionate affair with oatmeal for a year.”?, heh! Good idea about the archive disclaimer.

  3. I blog under my own name, as my blog is part of my personal/professional site (super-personal posts are password-protected). You raise a really interesting point. I’ve certainly looked at things I’ve written during the past 4+ years and, in retrospect, raised my eyebrow at myself, so I can definitely see how someone else could be confused or mislead by things I’ve written at various points in time.

    I hope one day to be a clinical psychologist (I’m just starting to apply to grad school, so it’s a long way off), and I’ve never really considered how the Google trail could affect the perception potential clients or employers could get of me. Granted, I follow the golden rule of not blogging anything I wouldn’t want my grandma to read, and I strive to be as honest and thoughtful (and, obviously, informed) about my writing as I can, but as a person — especially one particularly interested in and highly engaged in personal growth — my views do shift over time, on everything from the war to oatmeal (I had a mad and passionate affair with oatmeal for a year… now I can’t touch the stuff).

    Obviously blogging under one’s real name always carries its own risks and rewards. As far as this issue goes, especially as more of us have archives going back several years or more, I think the best we can do is just be up-front about the effects of time on our thoughts. Of course, to some extent this depends on the nature of one’s blog, topics, etc, but striving for integrity in writing shouldn’t be abandoned just because in a previous article one had a differing opinion. I’m currently redesigning my site, and because of your post, I’ve decided to include a disclaimer of sorts on every individual archive page to that effect. I’ll post a link when I get the site up and the wording worked out.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  4. Good points Markus, I think you got it right, I would put money on him being a salesman, probably a good one too. Making space for others points of view is great advice. I used to work at a local college and used to laugh how the teaching staff on occasion got stuck in “lecture mode”. Whatever the topic they would jabber on for an hour without taking a breath. When I started teaching myself I was quite concious to try not get caught doing that myself (didn’t always succeed as anyone who has read my posts will confirm!).

  5. I personally love that rhetorical game of playing the counterpart whatever the discussion is. Me-Too is pretty boring.

    The thing is if you start a conversation you should make a point and create space for others to argue. In blogging the simple rule was mentioned here some times for starting a good thread (good comment baiting). The success of lists is to stop so that others can add. A complete list is nice but doesn’t start the thread like a good Top-Ten or a Top-Five list can do.

    Back to the guy at the bar. I think what he was good at is drawing attention (readers). The second thing is that he did great promotion for himself being the center of the universe (blog). Somehow he also successfully managed to get a new audience all the time (new visitors). Last not least he had that magnetic attitude which made Chris write about him (link baiting). As a resume I would say that this guy did find a wonderful recipe for a blog 🙂

    He must be a salesman.

    Your blog is your product. If shifting opinions works … well, then it might be something to think about.

  6. I think a sudden shift in a person’s thinking appears suspect if there’s no explanation for it. There may a valid reason for it, but without some supporting reasons for the change, most people are going to wonder if either position was authentic. If there’s a trail that can be followed showing how the person’s position shifted, it appears to be more valid.

    I blog under a pseudonym, but I do it for a reason – the message of my blog is far more important to me than people putting my name to posts. *shrugs* Part of the point of my blog is that anyone is capable of doing what I post about.

  7. One of my more colorful law school professors had a habit, after setting forth a way one *could* view a particular issue, of following it up by saying:

    “A position I’d be happy to take for an appropriate fee.”

    Then he’d give us the other side of the issue and say it again.

  8. Well, there was a time when I believed — firmly — in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Sad in a way, I no longer do. But don’t try to shake my faith in the Great Pumpkin!

  9. >>As a blogger, I have known to contradict myself sometimes…

    As a blogger, or person in genral, you’d be pretty odd if you didn’t

  10. Shri, I guess we all contribute to the noise … I hope occasionally I contribute to the signal too, heh

    Philip, I love that quote, never heard it before but I might just repeat it! Welcome to Performancing

  11. What’s the line? Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

    I think changing your mind is just fine, if only because much of blogging is a thought or series of thoughts in progress, as such any reasonable person would have to be subject to, or influenced by, the fashions of the day as new information comes to light or new contexts arrive to be explored.

    I also think that in the long term this is a good thing for a certain kind of blogger because it only enhances his/her human fallibility which I think is an attraction of blogging for many readers.

    And lets also remember, if blogging teaches you one thing it’s that no matter what your particular expertise, there always appears to be someone out there smarter than you, or knows more about a subject that you thought you did.

    Yes I blog under my own name, (because I think it’s the honest thing to do) and am open about where I work etc, but then again I’m not in a sensitive position so I can pretty well fire away at will without repercussion, however I do moderate my commentary to the forum it’s presented in, for example I never write posts about the middle east in a political blog I contribute to because I’m largely mindful of the audience and the propensitity for that topic to decend into name calling and borderline libellous comment.

    Other than that I pretty well say what I have to say, with or without tact depending on the tone needed for the post.

    BTW, this is my first comment here Chris, and I’d just like to take this opportunity to say thank you for Performancing.

  12. As a blogger, I have known to contradict myself sometimes…

    For instance, I had been a staunch Microsoft critic ever since I was introduced to Linux. As I worked on the platform I began to realise that my opinions were more passionate than logical.

    All of us are guilty of this ‘crime’ at one time or the other. We usually don’t realize this when we are perpetrating it. But like they say, all of us have a 20/20 hindsight.

    As for the 400lb social butterfly, well, he had the advantage of the upper hand (pun unintended). whether he changed his opinions to suit the crowd or because of a process of logical thinking is the key factor. The same thing would also determine whether the ‘conversation’ that was being held was indeed a ‘conversation’ or a ‘speech’.

    As for me, I belive in absolute transparency. Whatever my opinions are I prefer posting them under my own name. Then again, there’s the ego surfing bit as well… However, I do write a few pseudonymous blogs, but those are purely for kicks.

    Blogging is a heat-of-the-moment affair. Most of the blogs today are like News channles. Its a race to be the first to Blog. The early Blogger gets the Traffic. And we, ourselves, as audience are guilty(?) of perpetrating this notion. There are all kinds of blogs – personal, information, news, instructional, gossip, stories, etc.

    Guess which one of them takes the hightest traffic?

    Who created the noise? Who should we blame for the noise? How hypocritical is that?

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