Change Our Minds
Admitting we are wrong is painful, it could be a sign of weakness-but what if we take a more flexible approach? What if we understood if flexible thinking could spur our curiosity and bring people who differ in many realms together or at least feel compassion towards one another. In this paper, we look at how re-evaluating our ideas or beliefs can change our brains, relationships, and even bring us a little joy.
Politician Bob Engles, back in the early 2000s, felt very sure of his beliefs. He thought of himself as morally pure just like snow. He believed he was perfect and everyone else in the political process were swines. For 12 years, Bob was the congressional representative for Greenville Spartanburg, South CarolinaBob Engles, which is one of the reddest districts in one of the reddest states in the nation. He was a true conservative. He believed in freedom, individual responsibility, and accountability. He had the record to back it up. 93% American conservative rating, 100% Christian Coalition, 100% right to life, an A+ with the NRA, 0% with Democratic action, and 23% by some mistake by the labor union.
On the environment, however, he said climate change was nonsense. He didn’t know anything about it except Al Gore was for it. Since he represented a red district that was the end of it. He states that there are consistent arguments between faith and science in the evangelical church that dates back to the question of evolution. There has been some disrespect from scientists to biblical believers that they are ignorant mostly by choice. That is the feeling many believers get from scientists. Something happened as Bob was gearing up for his election in 2004.
His son had just turned18 years old. He came to Bob and said he would vote for him if he cleaned up his act on climate change. Bob started to recognize that climate change was an issue. I know many people are thinking Bob is a congressman why should he care about what his son thinks? They can agree to disagree and Bob is sticking to what is on his platform, tough luck. Some sons are growing up to be like their father. Bob says he was growing up to be like his son and saw this as a teachable moment. His son loved him and was going to vote for him no matter what but Bob thought what his son was really saying was, “I love you but I know you can be better than you were before.”
That openness made it possible for Bob to listen to his son. Societies that can’t listen to the younger generations are the ones that get stuck and the world that passes them by. That was step one of Bob’s metamorphosis in climate change. The second step was getting on a science committee. Bob got the opportunity to travel to Antarctica. He saw the ice core drillings in the South Pole and evidence that climate change is real. The ice showed long stability of no climate change and then an uptick in CO2 that coincides with the Industrial Revolution that the world has been warming. Then occurred the third step in his change.
He got the opportunity to see coral bleaching in the Great Barrier reef in Australia. He was inspired by an Aussie climate scientist. He figured out if he is worshiping God in the creation and not worshiping the creation. The scientist talked about loving God and the people even the ones that he could not or would not ever know that would come after us. Bob had this major transformation.
When a politician changes his stance or does a complete 180 on a topic is not an easy issue. That is not seen as coming to a new understanding. The problem is seen as flip-flopping in politics. If we can’t take a new stance on something then we are just stuck. When the facts overtake us; is it better to be overtaken or is that better to double down on this refeuding the facts?
Facts are stubborn things. It is very curious that in the religious realm we talk about conversions and that is a glorious thing but when we talk about politics you can’t convert. Even though the evidence is building up that you are wrong.
The final transformation for Bob was proposing common change legislation. He introduced the Raise Wages and Cut Carbon Act of 2009 which would impose new taxes on fossil fuels (https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-bill/2380). As a Republican from South Carolina, it was a controversial move. He thinks for his constituents that this was too much and when he ran for reelection in 2010.
Well, it was not even close. After 12 years in Congress as a Republican got 29% of the vote and the other guy received the other 71%. Some would say Bob had a face plant in losing the primary is astonishing. There is no party to go home to. He thinks that is why politicians worry about the primary.
After that debacle, a foundation came to Bob and said you are an actual conservative that says, “climate change is real,” will you write for us. The website is Republicen.org where Bob speaks in a language that urges conservatives to engage in climate change. Bob writes in the language of conservation that they say I can now see a solution that fits. The government is not trying to regulate my very breath.
The government is trying to do what Milton Friedman, the great American economist, would have told us to do on the Phil Donahue show in the 1980s. There is a case about doing something about pollution and we are doing it wrong. The government needs to start imposing heftier taxes on pollution. Make it in the self-interest of the producers and consumers to keep down pollution. It is rock solid conservatism to act on climate change. It is literally a problem we all are in this together.
I leave you with this final thought, for politicians, at the end of your time in office; can you imagine knowing you stood for nothing and that you risked nothing. All you did was follow some fearful people with big checkbooks to where they were already going instead of trying to lead them to a better place. If you’re not willing to lose, there is very little reason to be there. There is good news! It is not too late, we can bring Americans together to solve this challenge and lead the world.