“Flip-flopping” is a term usually associated with politics. During election cycles, there are near-constant accusations that a candidate has changed his or her position on an issue. The insinuation is always that this “flip-flopping” is motivated by tactics, or strategy, or money, or all of the above. The message is that a flip-flopper cannot be trusted.
I often find the “flip-flopper” condemnation to be unhelpful. A changed mind, an evolved opinion, a fresh take – those all seem to be good things. They can be evidence that a politician is actually a human, whose view of the world is fluid and can be affected by new facts, a new perspective, a new mindset. A transparently calculated shift of position signals a lack of trustworthiness, but it does not stand to reason that all change is manipulative…even in politics.
A relative to “flip-flopping” has insidious roots in our daily lives, too. It is not directly acknowledged, and it goes by no short-handed reference. But many of us have a tendency to come to a conclusion about a person, and we cling to that notion of him or her. Once a cheater, always a cheater, the saying goes. It could just as easily stand for any other description: once an athlete, always an athlete; once a jerk, always a jerk; once a brown-noser, always a brown-noser, etc. It’s as if we’re afraid of being labeled a flip-flopper when it comes to our opinions of other people.
Or, it could be that our emotional reflex, when it comes to categorizing the people we interact with, is to arrive at a definition and file it, lock-box style, in our brain. With all of the social efforts we have to engage in over the course of our lifetimes, we seem to find an efficiency in permanent labeling. It would just take too much energy to change the periods of our personality-collating system to question marks, or ellipsis.
This is completely unfair, both to ourselves and to everyone we spend enough time with to assign a label. People, and their personalities, are just as fluid as the world around us. Our perceptions of them should accommodate their improvements and acknowledge their new weaknesses. An old friend might disappoint you, but an old enemy is just as capable of positively surprising you.
If we cannot allow for other people’s ups and downs, then it would be inconsistent of us to expect they would be so generous to us. And I, for one, do not want to be held to the overly competitive person I was in middle school, or the mess of a person I was in college – to list just a few examples. When I see people from my past, I hope that they “judge” me as I am today, and in fact credit me for whatever hurdles I’ve overcome, all while keeping me true to whatever strengths they may have perceived in our shared history.
I’ve been thinking about the ways we doom each other to stagnation for a while now. Yesterday, though, I read a tweet – yes, a tweet – that crystallized the concept. It was elegantly stated in 140 characters or less. Perhaps more significantly, it was put to words by a girl who just finished middle school.
I’m proud to say that the girl is my God-daughter. That connection is more mine to brag about, as all the good that is wrapped up in this early teenager is entirely due to her wisdom and the wonder of her parents. Somehow, our roles got reversed, and all the mentoring I was supposed to give has come, instead, from her.
As she put it yesterday, “I don’t believe in having one final opinion of a person. If they change why shouldn’t my feeling about/for them change as well?”
Exactly. Perfectly, exactly.
It took me reaching adulthood to seize upon the outlook this girl figured out by middle school. I’ll let you know what other life lessons she passes along. Stay tuned….