In fandom people have long memories and rock-solid opinions. So if you screwed up once, ten years ago, people will still be telling folks who haven't met you about the time you did such-and-such. There's no change. Doesn't matter how many good or right things you've done since then, a kneejerk opinion has been formed, it ain't shifting.
I don't like forming negative opinions about people, I do like staying on the positive side of things. I like to believe the best of people, to look at various circumstances, to allow for human weakness. Many people allow themselves to form an instant opinion and then remain unchanging on it.
Probably the best example of this I've had was earlier this year. I was on a panel with two other people. The new Battlestar Galactica series was brought up, and they proceeded to bag it, without ever having seen it, based on what they thought of the original. Their argument ran 'I've seen the old one, it was crap, the new one will be crap, too.'
For the whole panel, they kicked the crap out of the show. At this point I had only seen the miniseries and about six of the episodes, so I couldn't say more than it wasn't bad, but it wasn't doing anything new, either. I'd seen one episode that I thought was amazing television, but I had no idea if this was just an accident. I wish I had seen the entire first season, because I would have fought them on it, inch by bloody inch. As it was, I made it clear that I would be watching more of the series, that it had interested me enough to give it that chance.
They stated they would never watch it, because they already knew it was going to be rubbish.
Now it may be easy for many of the people reading this to shake their heads at how stupid this pair were, decide that these people were closed-minded fools, because the new Battlestar series is excellent TV. To indulge in a few knee-jerk reactions of their own, based on what these folks said. And that improves the situation how?
Lots of people do this. They form an opinion based on little of substance and then live their lives around it. I'm not excluding myself from this. Hell, a portion of the 100 Days posts are my kneejerk responses to things that annoy or offend me. I do it loudly and theatrically. I do it with raw passion. I also don't take my own kneejerk responses too seriously, no matter how loud I am about them at the time, though sometimes it's while ranting about something on here that I'll discover, for the first time in years, the real reason I have a problem with it. Part of the point of 100 Days is self-exploration as well as self expression, and that means admitting to myself that I may have been wrong or hasty.
Sometimes we need to look beyond our initial impressions, and try to find the real reasons for our reactions. Sometimes it's far easier to maintain a poisonous, biased opinion that springs from a knee-jerk response, than it is to allow a little light into our negative ideas. To give people or ideas another chance.
Having an open mind is a very special reward, and one that is too seldom given to oneself, or to others.
Change of Mind
One of the things I try to do is to not just keep an open mind, but to keep a mind that is open to sudden and radical change, as in, to be ready and/or willing to change a carefully (or hastily) formed opinion on the presentation of new information. The difference is between having a merely open mind, and having one that I'll allow to be changed, is important.
I like to be proved wrong. When I am, I attack it with my usual enthusiasm, embrace the new idea, let it be absorbed, chewed over, and allow it to start to affect my opinions and actions. And it's more important to allow that than to be safe in my pride or pre-conceived ideas.
There are many people who profess to have open minds, but once they've formed an opinion, there's no shifting it. They will fight tooth and nail, proclaiming their still-flawed ideas in the face of all fact and logic as 'the way it is.'
I'm wanting to have my mind changed on matters scientific, cultural, emotional and personal. I don't have to like it, but most of the time I do, because I like to learn. Every wrong idea I have that gets blown away is something new I have learned. I want to understand the universe, I want to understand and know about every single aspect of it, including myself. As long as I'm willing to allow myself to be changed by what I learn, I have a chance of that.
One of the ways in which I do this is to, after a set period of time, rewatch a film that I've truly hated on a first viewing. I don't actively hate that many films. There are many that I wouldn't bother rewatching, but that's to do with taste or what the film gave me, rather than hating it.
I hated The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I loved the stage-play, enjoyed the songs, passionately detested the film. I thought it was an amateurish piece of crap. For years I resisted all my friends telling me it was great, that I should like it. I had seen it. I hadn't enjoyed it. I can still remember sitting in the cinema and hating it from around ten minutes in and, a few years later, making it to the first commercial break on TV before switching it off in disgust.
Five years after seeing it, I sat down to watch it again. I sat down not expecting to enjoy the film, knowing I hated it. I didn't sit down to give it another chance, to try and like it, or to prove to myself that it really was crap. I sat down wanting to see Little Nell's nipples once more.
Hey, I was in a pervy mood, ok?
And right from the get-go, I found myself not just liking, but loving the film. Yes, it was amatuerish, but that was part of its charm. In fact, it was crap in exactly the right way for what it was. After five years of saying quite truthfully to people that I didn't like or enjoy the movie, I found that now, for whatever reason, I thought it was marvellous.
That was an important discovery. Me being willing to rewatch a film simply because I'm a perve and wanted to see a particular woman's nipple again, allowed me to discover that I was capable of radically changing my opinion, without any outside influence. As I write this, I have the newly purchased, three-disc set that has both Rocky Horror and Shock Treatment, sitting just to my left.
Yes, I'm the guy that likes Shock Treatment. You knew I existed. Live with it.
It was that experience, hitting at the core of who I am as a film/tv buff, that made me realise I had to be willing and able to change my opinion. That sometimes first and even second impressions aren't good enough reasons to hold to an opinion, I needed to be willing to allow for my own changes in attitude based on time, maturity, experience, or just the fact that maybe I jumped to a conclusion or allowed my hopes or pre-conceived ideas to get in the way of what I would eventually feel, if only I gave myself permission to be open to it.
I'm not always successful in this, but I never stop trying.
So, for example, when I talked in the Sanitised Life post about the way human death was dealt with in hospitals, I approached it with my usual vigor. I dislike that death is something that we're sheltered from to the point of hiding the dead on lower shelves of gurneys with sheets over them, but I'm grateful to strangedave for pointing out that some of those sorts of decisions are based on privacy issues for the family. That's an angle I hadn't considered as I was foaming at the mouth. I still dislike the dead being hidden, but if it's being done for the peace of mind of family in a trying time, that's fair enough. I don't want or expect them to be made uncomfortable just because I think people on the whole need to stop being protected from everything.
The most important way in which I allow myself to change is people. I start everyone off with the same level of respect when I meet them. Whether it goes up or down is entirely up to them. I will react to things they do and say, my opinion shifting as I do. My first experience of many people is what I have been told about them. The problem here is that what I'm getting is someone else's experience and opinion, told to me as fact. Most people aren't good at changing their minds once they've decided someone is stupid, an arse, or that they've done something wrong.
Especially in fandom.
For a group of people who supposedly look to the future and embrace change, most fans have opinions about people and things that change with geological slowness. This is another rant entirely, but I'll touch on a salient point here. I suspect I'm one of the few people who, after knowing him for twenty damned years, still holds out hope for Lameo, hopes that he will change, and that if change were to occur, would embrace it and give him yet another chance.
Maybe it's because I'm just stupid.
Maybe it's because every day is a new day. People can and do change and, if I can see the change, I don't see the point of weighing them down with a tonne of ancient, pre-conceived expectations. I don't ignore their past, that's just as stupid as only judging people on it. I keep their past in mind, but I try my hardest not to let it affect my opinions of the present unless it's relevant. I'm not always successful.
But I always want them to prove me, and everyone else, wrong.
A personal example is of someone who brutally and unfairly attacked me in a public forum some years back. This is a person with a long history of these sorts of knee-jerk attacks. He'd often been seen to criticise, but never to offer his help. His criticisms were destructive in the way they were approached. Over the years he'd gotten away with this behaviour again and again. No one ever called him to account for acting like a complete arse.
Well, I had had enough. I told the people I was involved with that this was it, I was going to ban the fucker. He'd had it coming for years, it was like he felt that he had every right to tear into and publically slander people, without consequences. Well, he was going to learn that this behaviour was unacceptable, that after decades of treating people this way, those people did actually have the power to say "Sorry, but you're not welcome at one of our events."
A bunch of people talked me out of it.
So instead I went and talked to him. It was long, hard and tiring. And I don't know whether it was that talk, or just that he finally gained some maturity as to how his actions were affecting people, but slowly, over the last few years he's changed. Oh he's not perfect now, and neither am I, but he's come a hell of a long way, to the point where, when I get my bloody act together, I actually want to work with him on a project, because I can see that he wants to do more to help, and he has skills that would be valuable.
It would never have reached this point, if I hadn't been willing to have my mind changed, or been willing accept that he could change. The funny thing? The people who talked me out of banning him, think I'm mad for wanting to let him get involved.
I think it's important to reward positive change with some trust, to allow him more room to grow and change, and to help the community that he's thoughtlessly hurt over the years. To give him more opportunities to change, rather than damning him for his past.
To a lot of people, it may not be obvious that I am capable of this. I'm a passionate person. I react and over-react to things good and bad. I feel things quickly and deeply. I get angry quite fast. A lot of that is instant and extreme reactions, once they settle, I start to think about things carefully, with more consideration. I know from experience that I'm fully capable of pulling a 180 degree change of opinion when given the relevant information. It's not back-peddling, or lack of backbone, or weakness. It's attempting to have a truly open mind in spite of my own worst instincts. And generally speaking, I'm not too bad at it.
It's one of the things I really like about myself.