How to Make Up Your Mind About an Issue

Living in a world of constant debate and disagreement, evaluating your own position on an issue of special or public importance is sometimes straightforward when based on your beliefs, values, and general knowledge. However, other times it is much harder to make up your mind about an issue because the territory is new to you or to humanity in general, or there are many competing or controversial values and ideas that go into forming the issue under discussion or dispute. When making up your own mind about the issue, it's important to have studied the varied perspectives before reaching your own conclusion. Even then, you are best served by keeping an open mind about future directions and understandings as new information transpires.

In this article, you'll be presented with some basic elements on how to make up your mind about an issue, particularly where it is complicated, divisive, and perhaps even untested.


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    Ignore your gut instinct. Your gut instinct is founded on your prejudices and personal experiences, and no matter how hard you've aimed to seek balance in how you perceive your experiences, residing within them are your own interpretations of the world. When assessing an issue for the first time, your prejudices and experiences will make it harder to evaluate the issue objectively. As such, always be aware of what your own biases are, where they come from, and what impact they have on the debate before you. Be prepared to try to suspend your biases while working through your understanding of the issue.
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    Clarify your value system. Write down your values, going from what you believe to be most important to the least important. Think very carefully about what each value or expression of that value means to you and how it impacts the way in which you view the world and complex or divisive issues such as the one before you. Part of this exercise is to help you understand the importance of trying to justify your decisions as you make them. Here are some examples of values to consider when writing out your list:
    • Justice (personal and societal), life/health (including reproductive and mental health), national/cultural identity, freedom, security, morality, human rights, human responsibilities, imperialism, socialism, capitalism, technology, environment, animal rights and welfare, and equality/tolerance.
    • When creating your value system, remember that you are not just considering yourself personally in many issues. For example, while you may be willing to risk your own life for your own freedom, you might not believe that the same should be required of other people. Therefore in this case you would place "life" before "freedom" in importance.
    • Think about what personal things have happened to you in life that have cemented your ideas about certain issues. Being aware that you base some of your values in single occurrences that upset, angered, or scared you is important.
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    Research the issue in depth. Research will enable you to go beyond simply repeating the media headlines and what your neighbor, spouse, or parents say. While it's helpful to listen to people objectively, it isn't helpful to be swayed by noisy, repetitive, and emotional hubris based solely on other people's comfort zones and hearsay. By all means listen to what others have to say but be prepared to research the facts hidden under the noise of their agendas or preferences.
    • Read arguments from varying perspectives. There are usually at least two perspectives to any discussion or dispute but there are frequently more, and many shades of gray in between. Be prepared to read widely across the varying opinions, both "expert" and "general", and try to see why different people hold differing perspectives, as this will go a long way to enlightening your own understanding of the issue.
    • Understand the difference between facts and opinions. While opinions are useful guideposts for you provided you think about them critically, facts are the aspects of the debate on which you should be able to rely objectively. Unfortunately, finding the facts is not as easy as it seems, especially if the facts come from research studies which have been colored by the researcher's own values. This means that you need to read more broadly than simply looking to one or two authors/experts/commentators in any field, to ensure that you're not just being exposed to a biased viewpoint. Read about the issue from a variety of researcher's studies, media news, opinion pieces, blogs, peer reviews, history, etc., in order to get a more balanced view.
    • Even within those holding your own beliefs and values, you will find varying levels of comprehension and perspectives. Which of those match most closely to your own and why? Always be very aware that there will often be convergences between differing opinions and it is prudent to look for those to see where compromises can be made successfully. However, keep in mind equally that convergences in extremist views are generally not about compromise positions but are often based on shoring up one societal group's benefits at the expense of anyone else, with little room for debate. Beware anything that claims to represent the absolute truth or understanding of the issue.
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    Relate the facts of the issue to your values. After you've done the research and reflected over the matter, draw the threads together to firm up your stance on the issue. Ask yourself which solution or side is closest to reflecting your values and beliefs.
    • When deciding on an opinion, avoid focusing on blame and instead focus on solutions or change that can be made. For example, on the issue of pollution you might decide that humans are responsible, but you should focus on how humans can change their habits or reverse the effects. Taking a proactive approach moves everyone forward, while blame causes everyone to continue debating and to look to the past.
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    Go beyond forming your opinion and ask yourself how you would defend your stance on the issue if someone were to question you. Ask yourself the opposite questions to see if your answers "hold water" when questioned.
    • Play devil's advocate with someone you can trust and you know you can have a good conversation with. For the sake of being contrary, question everything that they say about the issue and work through it together in this way. It's probably a good idea to let the other person know that this is what you're up to, or they might think you're being rude or difficult!
    • Here's a hard but effective method: when you have a strong opinion about an issue, write an essay defending your opinion with as much evidence and actual citations as possible. Then, write another essay defending the other side, again with evidence and citations, considering that side's arguments seriously and being scrupulously honest and putting in as much effort as you did for the first essay. How do you feel at the end of writing both?
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    Advocate for your issue. Now that you have a well thought-out opinion and the knowledge to back it up, participate in the larger discussion. Publish essays, write letters, demonstrate, or maybe create your own organization to make your goals a reality. Even just talking with family, friends, and community members is an important means for getting out your message and understanding.
    • If you find your emotions keep getting in the way of your delivery of your opinion, go back to the research information. Draw on that to back up your statements and opinions rather than blathering out emotionally charged vitriol. People respect cool-headed, constructive arguing but emotional tirades are soon dismissed as too much effort and a load of hot air.
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    Remain open minded. Keep an open mind at every point, even after you've decided on your values and opinions. It's very easy to have made an error or missed something in this process. Moreover, as more information comes to light or as other people argue their cause and perspectives, you may find yourself seeing aspects of their argument that appeal to you that might rightly form a part of your outlook. Being able to accept when your own opinion and ideas need adjustment is a sign of healthy growth and a lively mind, one destined to keep up with events as they unroll rather than remaining mired in a single decision taken once and never budged from again. Ultimately, making up your mind is not a once-in-a-lifetime activity but part of an ongoing process in which your core values continue to hold but your willingness to continue listening and learning informs and updates your opinion.


  • Keep an open mind at every point, even after you've decided on your values and opinions. It's very easy to have made an error or missed something in this process.
  • When researching, you may want to write down what facts you can determine for sure and which are too controversial to make a definite conclusion about.
  • When evaluating election issues for politicians or office holders, their past responsibility can indicate how they will act in the position they're running for. By the same token, you may also choose to believe that a person who has shown that they have reformed their behavior truly means to continue along that path. Weigh up the possibilities using your research and judgment.


  • When a decision is made that you believe is wrong, remember that there are many peaceful and constructive means for challenging it. Anything involving violence, injury or death is morally wrong and does nothing to further a cause or belief. Holding a belief that harming another to prove an opinion or point is acceptable is morally reprehensible and invites the same aggression and violence being turned back on you.
  • Know which battles to fight and which to leave. Reserve your energies for when it really matters and for when you're well armed with information and facts. Be respectful of other people's opinions and be sure to hear them out attentively – just as you would wish for them to do for you.
  • Bear in mind that expertise does not necessarily mean value-free. After all, the expert is a human too and will naturally incline toward the expert view that agrees with his or her own values. Read widely across "experts" to avoid relying simply on one or two.

Things You'll Need

  • A journal or a notebook for your research
  • Library access and internet access for research
  • Opportunities to listen to others about the issue - attend meetings, discussions, debates, and voting on the issue to learn more

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