Monuments to wrongness

Have you ever said something and then changed your mind? Of course you have. We all have. It is part and parcel of saying almost anything. We say things and then, faced with them weeks, months or years later, we may have come to change our mind. We may even say we were wrong.

Someone reminded me of something I said in a podcast from a few months ago. They didn’t so much remind me as quoted me. Fortunately, I was able to stand by what I said then. I still think what I said and stand by it. Phew!

But I got to thinking, what if I hadn’t? Minimally, if someone brings it up, I would say that I didn’t agree with it anymore. That much seems obvious. But would I leave the podcast there, continuing to remain as a reminder of a time I said something that I no longer think? Or, in case someone used it to quote me, would I take it down? After all, it is embarrassing to be quoted on something you don’t think anymore. Worse, you might convince someone else of the thing that you don’t think anymore and wish you hadn’t!

Naturally, it depends what the thing is. I don’t think I’ve said anything racist on this blog before, but if I had done (and rightly apologised for it), I would probably take that down because why continue to upset people with something you don’t even think or mean? That seems a natural case for taking the thing down. If you recognise it was an upsetting thing to say, and you wish you hadn’t said it, and you know it will still upset people if found and read, it is just a clear case for employing the edit button.

Apart from that sort of thing, in the ordinary run of things, I like to think I would leave something up. I may no longer make that argument anymore, I may no longer think what I wrote, but I think it is good for people to see a progression of thought. I used to think X but, for whatever reason, I now think Y. Anyone stumbling upon X can readily be pointed to Y and know that you have changed your mind. That doesn’t seem unhealthy or unhelpful. It is not unlike what often happens with books. Someone might write a commentary in, say, Romans in the late 90s and, for various reasons, release a new version because they have changed their mind on a bunch of matters that it warrants a new edition. The old ones rarely get pulped, they just stand as a monument of that commentators changed mind.

The main thing that stands against this approach is our culture that refuses to accept apology or growth. ‘I don’t think that’ or ‘I have changed my mind’ are often not accepted. If you have voiced a view that is now deemed verboten, even if you no longer subscribe to the view or actively repudiate it, it will forever be cited in evidence against you. Indeed, your changed mind is of no importance. Your apology counts for very little. You have uttered a view and it shall forever stand for shame against you.

The problem with this is two-fold. First, it leaves very little room for growth. If it’s one strike and out, nobody will want any view they have moved on from to be on record. It actively militates against growth for fear that we will be found out to have ever been less than we should. Second, it leads to a self-censoring that means very little of interest will ever be said – for fear of offending someone – and, if it is, no room for growth if we ever got it wrong. Rather than helping people move on from views that are less than excellent, many simply don’t voice them at all, and never hear anyone explain why they aren’t sound, and so that person simply never grows. They maintain the view without it ever being addressed or their being helped to see a better way (assuming there is one) because they never voiced it due to fear of reprisals.

If only we could move away from this graceless fear of reprisal, we might have more monuments to our wrongness. If we have more of those monuments, we might have more room for growth. Just as I don’t think it is helpful to whitewash our past by destroying our actual monuments, but feel it better to take them down by consent recognising our problematic past and continuing to grow and learn from it by keeping it on display (potentially in a museum), we grow best when monuments to our own wrongness remain on display so we can learn from them and, where necessary, grow.