What was it about, the disputation into which we plunged, in spite of our desperate efforts to clutch at other subjects? Was it Tariff Reform or Table-rapping—Bacon and Shakespeare, Disestablishment, perhaps—or Anti-Vivisection? What did any of us know or really care about it? What force, what fury drove us into saying the stupid, intolerant, denunciatory things we said; that made us feel we would rather die than not say them? How could a group of polite and intelligent people be so suddenly transformed into barking animals?
Why do we let these Abstractions and implacable Dogmatisms take possession of us, glare at each other through our eyes, and fight their futile, frenzied conflicts in our persons? Life without the rancours and ever-recurring battles of these Bogeys might be so simple, friendly, affectionate, and pleasant!
— Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia: A Collection of Reflections & Aphorisms
Time won’t change you, money won’t change you
Drugs won’t change you, religion won’t change you
What’s the matter with you?
I haven’t got the faintest idea
Everything seems to be up in the air at this time
I need something to change your mind
Science won’t change you, looks like I can’t change you
I try to talk to you to make things clear
But you’re not even listening to me
And it comes directly from my heart to you
I need something to change your mind
— Talking Heads, “Mind”
Ah! How reluctant I am to force my own ideas upon another! How I rejoice in any mood and secret transformation within myself which means that the ideas of another have prevailed over my own!
— Nietzsche, Daybreak
I enter into conversation and argument with great freedom and facility, since opinions find in me a soil into which they cannot easily penetrate or strike deep roots. No proposition astounds me, no belief offends me, however much opposed it may be to my own. There is no fantasy so frivolous or extravagant that it does not seem to me a natural product of the human mind. Those of us who deny our judgement the right of making final decisions look mildly on ideas that differ from our own; if we do not give them credence, we can at least offer them a ready hearing.
Contradictions of opinion, therefore, neither offend nor estrange me; they only arouse and exercise my mind. We run away from correction; we ought to court it and expose ourselves to it, especially when it comes in the shape of discussion, not of a school lesson. Each time we meet with opposition, we consider not whether it is just, but how, wrongly or rightly, we can rebut it. Instead of opening our arms to it, we greet it with our claws. I could stand a rough shaking from my friends: ‘You are a fool, you’re talking nonsense.’
In good company, I like expression to be bold, and men to say what they think. We must strengthen our ears and harden them against any weakness for the ceremonious use of words. I like strong and manly acquaintanceships and society, a friendship that prides itself on the sharpness and vigour of its dealings. I like love that bites and scratches till the blood comes. It is not vigorous and free enough if it is not quarrelsome, if it is polite and artificial, if it is afraid of shocks, and is constrained in its ways: ‘for there can be no discussion without contradiction’ (Cicero, De Finibus, I, viii).
When I am opposed, my attention is roused, not my anger. I go out to meet the man who contradicts me and corrects me. The cause of truth ought to be a cause common to us both. How will he reply? The passion of anger has already struck down his judgement; confusion has usurped the place of reason. It would be useful if a wager were to hang on the result of our disputes, if there could be some material mark of our losses, so that we might keep a record of them. My man could then say to me: ‘Your ignorance and stubbornness on some twenty occasions last year cost you a hundred crowns.’
I welcome and embrace the truth in whosoever hands I find it. I cheerfully surrender to it, and offer it my vanquished arms as soon as I see it approaching in the distance. And provided that I am not treated with too imperious and magisterial a frown, I am glad of any criticisms upon my writings. Indeed I have often made changes in them, more out of politeness than because they were improved by it. For I like, by yielding easily, to gratify and foster the freedom to find fault with me, even at some cost to myself.
It is, however, difficult to induce men of my time to do this; they have not the courage to correct because they have not the courage to stand correction; and they never speak frankly in one another’s presence. I take so much pleasure in being judged and known that it is almost indifferent to me whether I am admired or criticized. My mind so frequently contradicts and condemns itself that it is all one to me if someone else does so, especially as I only give his criticism such authority as I choose.
— Montaigne, “On the Art of Conversation”