On Tuesday, November 8th, 1960 I cast my first vote in a U.S. presidential election, at the age of 23. I voted for Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy. I was a Southern Baptist ministerial student at the time, and although I did not openly admit it, I was influenced by the fervent anti-Catholic sentiments I heard around me in Tennessee. Preachers said that a vote for Kennedy was a vote to have the Pope running things in America. My voiced rationale for the Nixon vote was that he was "more experienced."
I did learn better. In the 1964 election I voted for Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater, then for Hubert Humphrey against Nixon in 1968, then for George McGovern against Nixon (who seemed never to go away) in 1972. My thinking on Nixon and what he represented had clearly "evolved."
I grew up in rural Tennessee, and although he had a Ph.D, my father was still a mountain man from North Carolina. He gave me a rifle at an early age and taught me to shoot and hunt. I developed a love for guns and hunting and marksmanship.
I joined the National Rifle Association and benefitted from its connection with the U.S. military that allowed NRA members to purchase surplus weapons for almost nothing. I obtained and refinished guns such as the classic M1903 Springfield .30-06, the army M1 .30 Carbine, and the .45 caliber pistol. I learned to re-finish and re-blue weapons, and to fit and furnish them with new and beautiful wooden stocks. In those days you might have called me a "gun nut" and been pretty accurate.
I also was a hunter. I have aimed at, shot, and killed squirrels, rabbits, dogs, ducks, deer, crows, groundhogs, doves, hawks, pheasants, rats, snakes, quail, frogs, large fish in a river, racoons, and possums, to name those I can recall. I once shot at a wild boar but missed. In those days I would probably have hunted and killed an African lion named Cecil if I posessed the money to do so.
But today I would not even consider shooting an animal. I still own some of my old guns but I haven't fired one in years. I love watching wildlife films and doing wildlife photography. My thinking has evolved on the subject of killing animals. It has also evolved on the subject of the National Rifle Association, whose politics I now detest.
When I was a young man, the smoking of tobacco was stylish and popular. I had a professor I greatly admired, and he wore a vest and smoked a pipe. I got a vest and bought a pipe and tried my best to learn to use it. The pipe and my mouth and nose never took to each other, and I finally gave up on the effort, which I am grateful for today. Over time, the truth about smoking tobacco came out, despite the efforts of tobacco companies and the politicians whose votes they owned. Today, public sentiment is totally reversed on the subject of tobacco. Our national thinking has evolved on this subject.
When a person changes her mind on a matter, friends will give her credit for evolved thinking. The unsympathetic will call it "flip flopping." You might assume that flip flopping and evolved thinking are the same. You might believe that the only difference is in how they are being described, whether in supportive or derisive terms. Actually I think there's a difference between the two.
When a person changes his mind on a subject of importance, the decision may or may not be based on conviction and sincerity. An open and reasoning mind may not have been involved at all, just convenience or expediency or practical self interest. In this case, the term "flip flopping" fits well and is not inappropriate. But if a person begins to see things in a new and different light, finds and accepts new evidence, struggles with and overcomes old prejudice–when that happens things are totally different.
Thus, it seems to me, there are two kinds of change: one based on sincere reason, and the other based on following external influences. And, to make a judgement on the matter, one of these is admirable and the other is not. One is to be admired and the other is to be suspected. One can be trusted and the other cannot.
We trust and admire those who live by the advice of Shakespeare's Polonius to his son Laertes:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Evolved thinking, if it is that, must arise from within a self that is true to itself.
The outcome may not be the most expedient, or the most profitable, or the most popular.
But you can live with it.