Flip-Floppers

Flip-flops are a kind of shoe. People call them different things in different places. When I was growing up my mom would call them zorries (not sure about the spelling on the sound of the word or on the origin of the word). My mom had a lot of odd names for things so maybe this has a logical origin or maybe it is something offensive, either way it is the word she used for the show commonly called flip-flop. Our neighbor did call them flip-flops, she said because of the sound they made when you walked. That makes some sense. I’ve seem them described a beach sandals, thongs, and in Hawaii they are slippas.

I’ve been thinking about flip-flops, the shoes quite a bit because it is an election year and so the terms is also being bandied about in accusatory tones with respect to political positions. If you supported one thing and now you don’t you are a flip-flopper, which is to say you are inconsistent in your belief system and therefore not to be trusted. This may be true. Changing your position on something could be a sign of raw ambition and a willingness to say or do anything just to get the votes. Or, crazy thought here, it could also mean that you have learned some things that have changed your mind about the issue. Changing a position on an issue could mean that you are open to hearing a different perspective, that you are willing to evolve in your thinking, that you are not an ideologue.

In politics today it has for some reason become a cardinal sin to learn something new and change your mind. It’s not okay to admit that you were mistaken in your thinking and that now, with the benefit of experience, and hindsight, and greater knowledge you would do something different. I think the willingness to learn is a good thing, we certainly spend a great deal of time and money educating young people, it seems rather odd that the message we send then is that once you have an opinion on something you should never change your mind. Why bother learning anything if it’s wrong to use that information to inform, and possibly change how you think.

I’m not sure that it is a great quality in an individual to suggest they have never changed their position on something. Maybe that’s okay with certain things, you know like slavery, that is always bad, but maybe there are other things that are more nuanced and how you think about approaching a problem should change as you learn more. For instance, I didn’t always think that wearing a helmet while skiing, or biking was a necessary thing to do. Then I learned about brain injuries and long-term impacts thereof and now I think they are a terrific idea. Does that make me an untrustworthy, self-serving helmet flip-flopper? I wasn’t for helmets until I was for them, how can you trust anything I say.

I used to feel like the death penalty was appropriate for certain crimes. I was for it I suppose you would say. And then over the last twenty years I have learned about disparate sentencing structures, the cost of the death penalty, mistakes in prosecutions. I have considered this from a spiritual perspective, from a religious-historical perspective, from the perspective of crime-prevention efficacy and now I am against it. I was for it until I was against it, another flip-flop. Or maybe just thinking and learning and considering.

When you are a politician you have to declare what your position is on certain things, on many things. That’s part of the job. And sometimes maybe your position changes as you learn more about something over the years. Many politicians are in it for the long-haul so like every human they are going to change as they age. So maybe if we want to avoid flip-flopping politicians we shouldn’t elect people over and over and over for life, maybe we should make it easier for new people to get involved and then to get out and more new people to get in so that there isn’t time for minds to change during the long years of public service. Or maybe we should decide that having people who are willing to learn is a good thing in governance and we should ask more questions like “why do you think that now,” and then listen to the answer and then do some thinking of ourselves. That would be great.

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