Sunday, August 31, 2014

Change your thoughts

Years ago, when I was in college, I came across some old theological books in the library and wrote down these passages about willingness to change one's mind.

Leslie Dewart observed that an impartial or even hostile critic can help us find our factual and logical errors:
There is an old proverb that a good man deserves an enemy to tell him his faults. Perhaps this nugget of folk wisdom might have been a little richer, albeit less euphonious, if besides hoping that even good men would become conscious of their shortcomings, it had managed to stress that a hostile critic is an invaluable aid also in the cultivation of one's truth. It is not, of course, a critic's hostility that counts, but his freedom from prejudice in one's favor and, thereby, his aptness for ferreting out every last weakness in one's position. Indeed, the enemy should be sought in his home ground. It does not infrequently happen that the appreciation of our own truth, the understanding of our own ways and the development of our own experience are uniquely enhanced if we speculatively entertain views contrary to ours, if we pursue our acquaintance with foreign ways, and if we beg to share in someone else's novel experience.
When we criticize others, even if they do not hear our criticism or cannot respond, our criticism of them may be an occasion for ourselves to look inward and improve ourselves. Edwin Tenney Brewster put it: "So far as my reader finds me in error, this should but add zest to his own search for truth."

Norman Vincent Peale said, "Change your thoughts and you change your world," while George Bernard Shaw said, "Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." Taken together, the option is stark: Either we can change our entire personal worlds or we can change nothing at all.

A few great people are able to communicate their shift in thinking and, in so doing, influence the worldviews of the entire culture. Alfred North Whitehead wrote: "In its turn every philosophy will suffer a deposition...Philosophy never reverts to its old position after the shock of a great philosopher."


Leslie Dewart. The Future of Belief: Theism in a World Come of Age. New York: Herder and Herder, 1966. p 52.

Edwin Tenney Brewster. The Understanding of Religion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1923. p viii-ix.

Alfred North Whitehead. Process and Reality. (Originally 1929.) Part 1, Chap. 1, Sect. 6. New York: Harper, 1960. pp. 9, 14.

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