Those familiar with reddit will know that often the best way to find a community is to just guess its name and fill in the blank: reddit.com/r/____
The name is quite obvious for some interests and hobbies – “philosophy”, “movies”, “running”, etc. What you might call one that’s intended for posting an opinion to be challenged is slightly less obvious, but back in January 2013 when I had this subreddit idea, “changemymind” is what I typed into that blank space. It existed, but it was one of thousands upon thousands of “dead” subreddits, with one inactive moderator and zero subscribers at the time. I had mixed feelings at this point – I would have only been happy to find such a place if it was thriving, and I didn’t exactly have a fully fledged plan to set one up if not.
I’ve since learned that it’s possible to acquire an inactive subreddit through /r/redditrequest – and I eventually did this – but since I wasn’t aware at the time, I tried a different name in the URL: “changemyview”. It didn’t exist, so I created it.
In hindsight, I am very thankful that /r/changemymind wasn’t available to me, and the rest of this post will explore why.
There’s no denying that mind is the go-to word when it comes to shifting opinions. It certainly was mine, and it’s often used in media coverage of the subreddit. For example, a UK newspaper The Observer used the title “A Mind Changer?” in a preview of their longer section on CMV.
Other examples include Cory Doctorow, who gave a greatly appreciated mention of the subreddit during his interview with Edward Snowden in May 2017, but – through what I assume to be habit – misnamed it “Change My Mind” (happens at 1:02:14). And during an interview with Wired, Tristan Harris mentioned a conversation he had on Sam Harris’ podcast where they talked about a possible “Change My Mind button” for Facebook (which led to /r/changemyview being brought to their attention).
This preference is also evidenced by the increasing number of people mistakenly searching and subscribing to /r/changemymind (currently ~1,050).
After sitting at zero subscribers for nearly two years and under one hundred for a further three, it experienced a growth rate of a similar shape to CMV’s 2017 subscription boom (due to the feature by NPR). You can see this at redditmetrics.com:
This was obviously a concern to the mod team and I – people were hearing about CMV, through media and word of mouth, but couldn’t find it due to the prevalence of mind. Fortunately, I was able to request a takeover as I mentioned in the introduction, allowing us to direct users to the right place.
Branding confusion aside, as the subreddit has matured over time, I have come to appreciate the word view much more.
When I think of “views”, I have this image of an “issue” sitting in the middle of a large room, with lots of different people standing on platforms of varying heights in a circle around it. While for some issues you might be able to split the room in half and declare “sides”, others can have lots of nuanced perspectives which we often generalise for ease (or worse – political agenda).
In the subreddit, we encourage an approach to conversation that treats a view as exactly that – how we see something. This detachment allows both the view-holder and potential view-changer to move around and observe (talk and listen) without acting like everything is set in stone. Thinking of opinions as views reminds us that the concepts of perspective and illusion can also exist in the realm of ideas.
The word mind, however, internalises everything and gives a very personal nature to the opinion – an ownership, identity – which creates tricky territory for openness and change. Aside from using the phrase when we decide against doing something, having a changed mind, to me, sounds like a change of character, which of course can bring new views, but is harder to achieve and requires time. A changed view can occur separately from this, as the mind may have misjudged the situation, and through learning that, who you are doesn’t necessarily change.
Of course, there is some truth and logic to the phrase “changed mind” in this context. Our views can’t exist without a mind, and my views might be different to yours because our minds have been subjected to different experiences and information (as explored in a recent blog post). And while I know next to nothing about neuroscience, I would expect that some kind of change in brain activity occurs when a new opinion is formed. This Vox article talks about a study on something similar, and raises a relevant point:
“The study is limited. But it is intriguing new evidence that we mistake ideological challenges as personal insults. This suggests that to change minds, we need to separate opinions from identities — a task that proves particularly hard with politics.”
If I were to ask if you are proud of your mind, what would you say? We often treat our minds as a work in progress. We study, we exercise, we meditate – partly motivated by a desire to improve our mental well-being and cognitive abilities. If you’ve done this successfully, your answer to my question might be “yes”, but even if that’s not the case, I expect you are protectively critical of it. Kind of like someone saying “only I’m allowed to tease my family” to an overbearing friend.
If I asked, “are you proud of your views?”, the answer might depend on whether you feel an ownership of your opinions, something that the above Vox quote implies is a common problem. Personally, I don’t consider views to be worthy of pride in this way. Outside of public embarrassment (a separate issue worth tackling), it doesn’t make as much sense to be upset to find out your view is flawed – as opposed to your mind being flawed – since you can quickly take on a new one.
It might seem far-fetched to suggest that our problems with discussion are partly rooted in word choice, and – at the fear of being branded pedantic (which would be a criticism of mind, not view) – I do of course agree with the sentiment “we know what you mean”. Grammatical accuracy isn’t the be-all and end-all. But I wonder if our inclination to use the word mind is representative of a wider problem – that we consider opinions to be entrenched in our being – and perhaps encouraging a move towards view would help achieve detachment in the pursuit of greater understanding.