Opinion

Gerding: Freedom to change mind hallmark of our society

The ability to change one’s mind is supposed to be one of the great hallmarks of our democratic society.

We all have beliefs about things, but sometimes political leaders or other popular figures in our society come forward trying to introduce new ideas into our personal and collective thinking at various stages in our lives.

For Canadians, that is supposed to be a healthy characteristic, growing and adapting as the world we live in changes around us.

I was reminded of that this week by the criticism from U.S. conservative critics levelled at a high school student named Jonathan Krohn.

Back in 2009, at the age of 13, young Jonathan became a media darling of the conservative lunatic fringe in the U.S. when he delivered a right-wing speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

His speech was captured on video and went viral on the Internet, and he was invited to appear on dozens of TV and radio shows.

Billed as the future of the Republican Party, Krohn even wrote a book titled Define Conservatism.

But in a little more than three years since that speech, Krohn was again at the centre of a wave of publicity directed his way this past week, because he has chosen to abandon many of the conservative social values he espoused as a 13-year-old.

The teenager, who plans to attend New York University in the fall and study philosophy, found the conservative social value wishlist too restrictive for the realities of society today.

“I was really reading philosophy that didn’t have anything to do with politics, that gave me a breather and made me realize that a lot of what I said was ideological blather that really wasn’t meaningful,” Krohn said.

Watching him on TV, I could see a kid who got it, who saw the value of critical thinking skills and put them to good use, who did what every younger generation is supposed to do—challenge the views of their parents and keep pushing for our society to strive to be better.

Of course, in the dysfunctional U.S., the Conservative types trashed Krohn’s transformation as misdirected thinking, treating him like an alien in his own country.

Consider the response to Krohn by Conservative blogger James Capua: “One day soon an errant whale will wash up on some liberal coast and there will be no vast armada of government-subsidized empathy mobilized to save it. The money to do it just won’t be there. We can’t be that whale, flopping around waiting for the experts to get us off the beach and into safe waters. We can either stay off the beach by dint of our own exertions, or we can rot.”

One could agree about the money not being there because that needed tax revenue will be safely stored away in Bermuda, Switzerland and Cayman Islands bank accounts of the obscenely wealthy.

I think the message Krohn has learned at such a tender age is that solving the issues of our time can’t be led by political or religious ideologues, it is led by people willing to face the hard challenge at times of embracing new ideas, of thinking outside the box.

If a 17-year-old kid can figure that out, surely the rest of us, responsible adults, can and should do the same.

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