Defense of an Open Mind
An open mind is a crucible in which ideas, opinions and beliefs are processed without bias, prejudice or bigotry into effective forward thinking. In paraphrasing the slogan of the United Negro College Fund, “An open mind is a terrible thing to waste” and a valuable thing to embrace.
I recently saw a discussion string on a social media site that got way out of hand. It started as a civil discussion about the flap over NBC’s anchor Brian Williams’ false reporting about an experience in Iraq. Before long it morphed into a general discussion about truth telling and then into an argument about weapons of mass destruction. Bush lied, no he didn’t, yes he did, and so on.
Soon personal attacks took over and any hope of a civilized discussion was gone. No one asked a question of another, no one seemed to care why someone else believed what they believed. It appeared that each had blind faith in their position and refused to have it questioned or examined.
The perplexing thing about this kind of discussion is that the issue at hand concerns a fact, not an opinion, and isn’t open to debate. The coalition forces either found WMD or they didn’t. Neither participant in the discussion attempted to establish the facts of the case. All they seemed to care about was demeaning each other and claiming a victory. They were in the Vince Lombardi mode: “Winning’s not the main thing, it’s the only thing.”
Arguments like this, as fun and stimulating as they might be, do not get us any closer to the truth or solutions to problems. And while most of the time they are completely harmless, they often are not. In fact, they are often based on beliefs that are adopted because they support or reinforce a pet bias and fact checking or objective reasoning are not even considered.
A case in point is poverty. Discussions regarding solutions to poverty often center around the biases toward capitalism on one hand and big government on the other. One may believe that poverty is caused by corporate greed and the unequal distribution of wealth. Another may believe that ill advised government programs create poverty through the destruction of individual incentive and the creation of dependency.
Each side in the discussion may only consider arguments that support their own bias while attacking all others. In doing so, minds become closed to powerful ideas, and opportunities for valuable possibilities become lost.
It has become apparent that our closed minds on the issues of the day i.e., poverty, racism, illegal immigration, terrorism, the environment, etc., has created a staggering political paralysis and we are part of it. Once we accept the idea that biases are normal and that our natural dislike of ambiguity leads us to adopt beliefs that fit them, we are on our way to broadening our world view.
We become better team players, citizens and friends when we embrace the idea that the views and knowledge of others has value and should be recognized. We become more effective participants in problem solving and opportunity recognition when we maintain openness to the consideration of the ideas of others. We become more responsible voters when we expect the same open mindedness of our leaders and make it known that we will accept nothing less.