Today was ‘Tram Day’. After all the time and disruption and disputes and escalating costs, Edinburgh has a tram service; well a few miles of a single line at any rate.
And, yes, I actually went for a ride on one and was duly impressed. But what really struck me, after all the criticism and grumbling, was that the trams were packed with hoards of enthusiastic and excited people, and onlookers were waving from the pavement! Quite different from the negativity and cynicism that had been so very evident before.
I have no engineering knowledge and no experience of managing major construction works, but it seems undeniable that the whole trams project was hopelessly mismanaged from the beginning resulting in disputes, unnecessary disruption, unhelpful controversy, difficulties for business and spiralling costs.
What a shame.
But to assert that the project was mismanaged does not necessarily mean that it was misconceived!
All the evidence from European cities and other UK cities is that the benefits will, in time, far outweigh the costs, that trams will bring a major economic boost to the city (and there are already signs of this) and that building an efficient transport infrastructure will be essential for the future of a city and region that will be growing rapidly in the coming years and where care use in the city centre is increasingly unsustainable. See, for example, http://www.scotsman.com/news/comment-turning-edinburgh-tram-pain-into-positive-1-3276567
In short, all the evidence suggests that no matter how horrendous the cost in terms of finance or disruption, the gains will be still more. Oh, and the people of (eg) Sheffield and Dublin who also installed trams tell us that they hated the disruption but now love the trams! Check out http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/transport/edinburgh-trams-you-ll-love-them-says-dublin-1-3428779
But I suspect that those who have already decided that the trams were a criminal waste of money, and unnecessary disruption will remain unswayed by rational argument or factual presentations. The feelings run deep and when our passions are involved, no facts will persuade us. At least not quickly.
This is not true only of trams.
We could say much the same about the independence debate, the European debate, concerns regarding ‘benefit scroungers’, immigration, and so on and on. It seems to me that many of us fix our views at an emotional level and neither facts nor logic will shift these. I suspect most of us are guilty of this at some level.
So what will change our minds if our gut reaction has already determined our attitudes?
Sadly, sometimes there is nothing that will change people’s minds. But often it is experience, encounter and time that will have the effect of changing our minds.
Many of the disputes within the church can be undertaken at the level of feeling and passion and not rational discourse. But when gut reactions have closed minds to argument there is still hope. If someone truly encounters another person coming from a different perspective, if there is experience of another who has a different lifestyle / theology / outlook and yet who is still evidently close to God, and if we can give ourselves and others time to readjust our views, then just maybe the change can begin.
However, the danger is that we so vehemently state our case and fix our position at an early stage that we make it more difficult for ourselves to change our minds, or we paint others into a corner from which it is not easy for them to move with any semblance of dignity.
We need to give ourselves – and others – time, and the opportunities to experience new situations, explore and live with the changes we resist and encounter and engage with others who have a different perspective.
It is usually a mistake to fix our views too quickly, to express them to vehemently or to hold them too firmly, at least at first. It makes it so much more difficult for us to change our minds.