If everyone technically had an open mind, our brains would fall out, right? Ha! Open-mindedness is an interesting topic. Lots of widely varying connotations go along with the term. I’ve heard it said that people with open minds are foundationless and hold opinions that are easily swayed by the whims of any idea that passes their way. I was even taught as a young adult that being open-minded can be “dangerous” and can cause me to accept false ideologies and live in heresy. And then there are some who even claim that individuals who lack extremely tolerant views are the closed-minded and ignorant ones. Based on these common accusations, one might shy away from exhibiting open-mindedness based on misleading statements and another might claim an open mind without even truly representing it! One thing is sure in my mind though, and that is that closed-mindedness inhibits our collective consciousness and must no longer be perpetuated.
So, what is open-mindedness?
In order to continue on, we need to properly define what it is. Simply put, being open-minded is a willingness to consider new ideas. Ultimately, the advancement of our understanding about the reality in which we exist depends upon this willingness! (Science promotes and thrives on this premise.) Did you know that Galileo was imprisoned for his belief that Earth was not at the center of the universe and that the planets in our solar system actually revolve around our sun? He was considered a heretic for opposing church teachings. I think that it is safe to say that most everyone agrees that in the early 1600’s, the Inquisition (legal body of the Catholic church), exhibited a collectively closed mind- at the expense of a brilliant mathematician and astronomers last 16 years of life. As we see from this historical example, closed-mindedness can seem perfectly right and justifiable at the time, while in reality being perfectly wrong and ridiculous.
Many will agree that being open-minded is a virtuous quality. How do we obtain it? And why do so many people who claim it actually exhibit the opposite? Well, I believe we can obtain it through actively using our minds to refine and redefine our own belief systems, over the course of a lifetime. And I believe that people who falsely claim open-mindedness probably do so out of a simple lack of understanding and/or by exhibiting fallacies (unsound logic).
Let’s first discuss 3 common fallacies of logic to establish what it is that seems to be a proper mode of thought but actually fails to deliver on true open-mindedness. I find it especially important for an inquiring mind to understand such false premises and unsound logic in order to successfully branch out into the unknown territory of the universe that open-mindedness has to offer.
- “Requiring evidence makes you closed-minded.” A willingness to consider new ideas does not commit you to accept them unconditionally. If I were to strongly question a person’s beliefs (about anything in life), my inquiries about why someone believes cannot be considered offensive in an open-minded discussion. In a failed scenario, if a person being questioned was to write off the inquirer on the basis that their questions are offensive (because they are challenging to their belief system), I’d say that is an example of being closed minded. An equally closed-minded alternative situation would be where an inquirer is willing to take on any or all of the beliefs held by the person doing the explaining, without any of their own evidence. The correction on this fallacy? Scientific inquiry (see the scientific method) and perhaps the ability to abstain from making an immediate judgment in the aforementioned situation is an open-minded approach. Skepticism is not necessarily a quality of a closed mind.
- “Non-belief is an assertion that something cannot be true.” To say that you do not believe something does not mean it is untrue. In a hypothetical discussion between a religious person and a non-religious person, a fallacy of a religious person would be to assume that because the non-religious person holds no theistic belief, the skeptic holds the opinion that their religion is false, untrue, or unreal. A non-religious person may or may not actually maintain such finalized views on the beliefs of the religious person. In this scenario, the skeptic simply may not have obtained enough evidence to mindfully make a factual claim either way and is still undecided. This fallacy is essentially the fallacy of assumption and can manifest in many forms. We all know what ass-u-me-ing does! Assuming in any case is sure sign of a closed mind.
- “Open-mindedness = agreeing with me.” This is definitely a false presumption on open-mindedness. It is a common misconception that anyone who accepts any testimony or perceived fact as truth is an open-minded person. I have found this fallacy to be a most liberal interpretation of a so-called open mind; however, it is a mode of thought wrongly disguised as open-mindedness. A truly open-minded person actually challenges all modes of thought: even their own, on a regular basis. Agreeing with everyone on everything is as mindless as superstition and just as much of a closed-minded approach as believing that anyone who does not agree with you is wrong.
Open-mindedness isn’t about believing things. And, it is not a virtue to be easily persuaded by anyone or anything. Critical thinking is not incompatible with open-mindedness. Perhaps a better term for open-mindedness is “active-mindedness.” It is those who do not bother to seek testable evidence, make false assumptions, do not regularly entertain alternative beliefs to theirs, and those who accept everything they are taught as truth that keep very inactive minds. These are truly the ones that fail to actively utilize their minds in the greatest possible capacity. And as far as I’m concerned, to allow and train your mind to function at its highest frequency and capability is the ultimate accomplishment of our kind.
“It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it — the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.” -William Clifford
This is one of my all time favorite quotes that summarizes what I believe open-mindedness actually is. I strongly believe that if most of humanity exhibited open-mindedness (or even just made a tangible effort to), that countless barriers between all kinds of people groups would disintegrate. Just reflect for a minute on how many disputes alone could be solved if we truly approached situations with an open mind- from personal issues, to social issues, cultural issues, etc. If the collective product of generations of resentment toward a neighboring people could open-mindedly approach their neighbors without the unchecked judgment/beliefs of their ancestors or even their religion, territorial disputes might be approached more objectively. If perpetuated religious judgments considered that sometimes ‘sinful behavior’ is predictable based on genetics or even elements of the human brain, maybe a mere consideration towards the possibility of such things would promote a more loving attitude towards those they perceive to suffer. If I give someone the benefit of the doubt when they describe a spiritual experience to me that doesn’t look like what I’ve seen at “church,” maybe my willingness to consider the validity of their experience (aka having an open-mind) would help to promote the essence and spirit of humanity within a single person. If I read articles about scientific studies that have begun to show a positive correlation between meditation and healing within and beyond a meditating body, maybe I could remain open about what that means for the explanation of physical miracles through prayer! (…This is a recent interest of mine.)
I think that the best way to describe an open-mind is both an active mind, and a mind that doesn’t find it necessary to have a strong opinion on all situations. Sometimes it takes a certain amount of humility to realize that what you know to be true or have experienced isn’t the complete answer. Maybe you have part of the answer, maybe none. But if you are not open to more of the answer, you’ll never receive it. The answer here is truth. And the truth shall set you free.
How do you exhibit an open mind in your life? I would love to know. Stayed tuned for my next contribution on the topic of “humanity” on the third Monday of each month! Until next time…
Cara Jean is very new to the blogging world but feels she has much to offer the wonderful community of mothers and women in general who wish to seek out wholesome, natural, meaningful lifestyles. She is a stay at home mother of her two young daughters who are just 11 months apart! Though she has her hands very full (of love), she is now taking on the role of a blogging mother as an outlet to reach others on several different levels. Ultimately, she seeks to appeal to those who are searching for deeper significance in life. From natural birthing, to organic parenting, to spiritual reflections, to revelations on society in general, she is attempting to embody her beliefs about the world into her blog in order to inspire others to not settle for the status quo and seek a more unique perspective. In the midst of this community of many fantastic people and gifted bloggers, she humbly hopes to attract anyone who might be interested in her lifestyle that she has found to be deeply rewarding.
You can find Cara Jean on her blog: CarasJeans.