Note: Although not directly addressing the thematic content of this page, this article speaks to an issue that also lies at the heart of interfaith dialogue – are we able to change our minds about “the other.” Read it with that in mind.
What makes people change their minds? About the really hard stuff.
Covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the past three years, I’ve often wondered if people here ever do.
This conflict is frequently described as “intractable,” with neither side willing to give up their historical perspective or their entrenched positions to end it. And it does not take many interviews to hear repetitions of the same sweeping narrative repeated on each side. Palestinians from different places cite the same historical events to back their views. Israelis who have never met each other use similar turns of phrase.
“People have a lot of [psychological] resources invested in what they believe about the conflict,” says Thomas Zeitzoff, a political scientist at American University in Washington, D.C., who has researched Israeli and Palestinian attitudes.
He says the high political stakes and emotional involvement make it hard for Israelis and Palestinians to change their minds.
But there have been certain shifts – in public opinion and in individual beliefs – during the 68 years of Israel’s existence and almost half-century of the Israeli military control over Palestinian territories.
Why? Experts list a range of influences that – to varying degrees – can move or even flip deeply held views.
“You can point to major events, either in the world or people’s lives, changes in their social context, as well as changes in the kind of messages they get from politicians and other elite sources,” says Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor at Dartmouth College who researches politics and misperceptions.
Other factors include repeated exposure to a new idea, whatever the source, scientific research, and direct personal experience.
Four people – two Israeli and two Palestinian – told me their stories of personal, radical belief change related to the conflict. They not only changed their minds, but, a higher hurdle, their behavior.
Here are some triggers that led these people to see the world differently than they had before, even in the midst of a larger impasse.