by Tara Hebbar and Diya Barmecha
We occupy a world in which change is a constant that people aren’t afraid to change and persuade others in following their example. Old beliefs are discarded faster than new ones being made. Most people part of the newer generation have no trouble keeping up with these changes. However, in today’s article we would like to switch the perspective and look at it from the point of view of those who have lived with certain beliefs throughout their lives. When we grow up, our surroundings and environment is a large deciding factor in our beliefs. Is it really fair to expect people to suddenly have to change ideologies overnight? Ideologies that have had the time to deeply engrave themselves? What really is the psychological perspective of changing long held beliefs?
Mukesh Khanna, a veteran actor, best known for his work as a superhero in children’s television show “Shaktimaan” and Bhishma Pitamaha in the television series “Mahabharata,” has been getting criticized for the statements he has recently publicly made. He released a video stating that “The #MeToo movement began when women stepped out of their homes and started working.” He further said that, “Men and women are different. Women are supposed to take care of the household.” These statements are highly misogynistic but his thinking behind it is simple, though not justified. He believes that, “The first person who suffers is the child because he doesn’t have a mother (around him at home), and that she/he sits and watches TV with his nanny all day.” He also believes that this is the reason for the #MeToo like movements globally. The actor is receiving backlash on social media applications like Twitter and Instagram for making these highly sexist and stereotypical statements. This 62-year-old has a fixed and closed mindset, which is more stubborn at that age thus to change is harder than we can possibly imagine.
Psychology says that our opinions aren’t based on facts but on emotion and group afflictions. One of the main reasons why it is hard to change people’s beliefs is because our pre-existing beliefs are like anchors that pull us down harder, with time. They become like explanations. When we are presented with a problem we connect it and try to make sense of it by relating it to our pre-existing beliefs. Psychological terms like the confirmation bias is one such example. This means that once you believe something any other new facts will be filtered while that belief is kept in mind. Therefore at the end there is a clear path of what they believe. For example, if a person believes that every person with long fingers are artistically inclined, everytime they see someone both artistically inclined and with long fingers they will register that and remember it as “evidence.” However, when they encounter someone that doesn’t fit in their belief they will disregard the same and call it an exception, even if the exceptions are in majority. Another relevant term while talking about this is cognitive dissonance. This means that there are contradictory ideas or theories but a person tends to side with the one they prefer. For example, most of the smokers know that smoking can cause cancer and it is bad for health. They know this from the day they start smoking till the day they stop. However, it takes more than knowing that it is wrong. They may believe that this may not affect them.
An alternate explanation for the Mukesh Khanna case could be the backlash effect. When his mind was presented with a problem there was a paradoxical effect on him and his pre-existing beliefs grew stronger. People love to be right and in some scenarios they create a situation where they are right. Even if at times they are proved wrong, their belief that they are wrong takes much more time to fade away. To make a person believe something different then what they have been thinking for a long time is like unlocking a series of locks until you reach the start of the belief. Before penalising someone for their belief we have to try to understand where they are coming from and try to relate to them. For Mukesh Khanna, the world he grew up and lived in is very different from the world we currently live in.
From the #blacklivesmatter movement to so many others, we see reforms and pleas for change. Even though we couldn’t agree with it more, we have had the privilege of holding these opinions for as long as we have lived. Additionally, most of the people around us share the same beliefs or let us have our own in the case that they do not. We need to see the sides of those who aren’t given the same liberty. In households where the children have been constantly told otherwise, it might take longer, but in the influence of friends, and being children, they can change their opinion far quicker and more easily. The real problem that needs to be recognized is that of people such as Mukesh Khanna, who have lived long enough, without recognizing the problem for their ideas to manifest and marinate to a point where there’s no going back. There are so many such people, who may be stunting social justice and development with such an opinion, but is it fair to blame them? We all expect change to manifest itself overnight, but the harsh truth is that it might happen in a year, decade or even centuries.
We need to continue fighting and presenting facts to influence their mind in another way. Instead of trying to change the opinions of those who have allowed the marination, we must work on the younger generation. They have more open mindsets regardless of the beliefs of those around them. Instead of trying so hard to change opinion, and penalizing those who can’t, we must first empathize with the other side, and reform what is in our hands before working on others. If the majority of the younger generation shares the same modern ideas, very soon, we will have a population that will all be on the same page and hopefully work together to slowly but steadily work on the world’s ideas and development. At the same time, however, it is of utmost importance to respect the views of those who do not agree with you. It takes more patience to do this. To change fixed mindsets takes persuasion, which comes only by recognizing their situation and where they are coming from. This is like a disease, it spreads but with one cure, although people might have succumbed it shows that there’s hope and will help so many. If we directly give up on those, or don’t treat those who we aren’t fond of, this will further increase the spread. Therefore, let us eradicate this so-called “disease” using the treatment that we’d want ourselves.
Conclusively, though it is never an option to halt change and though we collectively believe that these people aren’t in the right, we also believe that it isn’t completely fair to blame them for something that has been imposed on them from a young age. After all, they’ve learned and taken these beliefs from us, just as everyone has adopted something from others. It is also necessary to change this and not accept it but we also cannot expect it to happen over the duration of a night, fortnight or even years. It will take patience, but so does every other obstacle people have faced. We have achieved so much as a world in so many moral fields and although we haven’t reached the destination yet, we must look at the past, not only the successes but the failures, and how there were successes that came out of that as well.
We can’t get everything we want, and expect instant gratification, change takes time, there will be challenges, cries, and fights, but in the end this is life, we can’t expect anything easier.