An Open Mind is a Prerequisite for Learning
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An Open Mind is a Prerequisite for Learning
The difference between comfort and open-mindedness is the difference between cowardliness and truthfulness. The mind that is open is open to the truth, whereas the close mind invents whatever truth it is comfortable with, so that it may persist in its delusions. To be truly open-minded, we must renounce the religion of our parents, and deny our cherished beliefs. Comfort is seduction. Better it is to suffer the pains of uncertainty, and the insanity of lost identity, so that we might open our minds to a firmer foundation, a deeper truth. Close-mindedness is afraid of reality. We need reality. Therefore, close-mindedness is a form of death worship. It denies our needs. Open-mindedness allows us to embrace the alien and discover what others will not discover. The distinction is between fear and love; life and death.
Close mindedness is not a label for people who are not knowledgeable. That is what we call ignorance. Close-mindedness is willful ignorance, the unwillingness to see what is before them, and the unwillingness to see it for what it is. Close-mindedness is a form of dishonesty and fear. So yes, the position of the open minded is so right, for they are also open to criticism, and so they will have the greatest chance of being right. Any evidence they can get, they do get. Wisdom rejoices in rebuke. So to do the open minded consider insults, criticisms, and rejoinders very carefully. A close-minded person will consider an insult. He will not entertain the notion that he is wrong. Given that we are all wrong on some issue at all times, the close-minded man makes this chronic. He is stuck in infancy.
As for your argument that close-minded people are better able to act, because they are sure, you are making the assumption that open-minded people are paralyzed by their acknowledgement of uncertainty. Far from it. Where the close-minded are comfortable with self-certainty, the open-minded are comfortable with uncertainty. They enjoy the instability of growth, which gives greater stability as they mature. You said there is no greater benefit then life then to be sure of your position. This is only true if your position is correct. If you are sure there is no hell, but there is one, your so-called benefit is your doom. Only the open minded have the right to be sure about any matter, for their knowledge is based on critical thinking, vigorous analysis, thorough questioning, and the consideration of positive and negative evidence.
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Open Discover Infancy Sure Chronic Assumption Delusions Close Pains Alien
Now if the open minded do not have enough information, but have to make a decision, they will make the best decision they can. They are not paralyzed. Merely because open-minded people prefer to know as much as possible before making a decision does not, as you say, make them just like close-minded people. In fact, it makes them completely unlike close-minded people.
What bizarre extremes you propose: the insanity of open-mindedness on one end, and the hate of close-mindedness on the. Yet open-minded people may hate, when hate is called for, and close-minded people may be insane. What is open-mindedness? Open-minded people are open to new information, and close-minded are closed off to new information. Open-mindedness and close-mindedness are two choices that only an adult can make. Children are necessarily open-minded so that they can learn and mature. As we become adults, we have already adapted our main habits and personality traits, our thinking habits and belief habits. Here comes the crux. The moment we value a comfortable lie over the painful truth, we commit the intellectual sin that corrupts reason and common sense. It is against common sense.
The close-minded man lives by his unchanging habits, and forces all new information and new situations to conform to his ideals and images of the world. He will not and cannot fundamentally change. Sometimes a new situation demands that he changes at least superficially, and at such times he does so, with much pain and anguish. A close-minded democrat may admit to the fallibility of his party if the democratic politician were to denounce his pastor. Here he must change his habits of belief regarding either his church or his political party. You see now that close-mindedness is parasite to open-mindedness, for to remain closed off to new information, we must change enough to live. Yet even here, the close-minded man may lie about the problem, and spend as little time thinking about it as possible. No, close-minded people do not have common sense, and for them it is impossible. They can only use common sense when common sense agrees with their opinions and preconceived beliefs. If commons sense prodded them to change, grow, renounce, or sacrifice, they would declare it folly, and not see it as common sense. Close-mindedness itself is a denial of common sense; for it is obvious that openness to new ideas is good. Only the open-minded are capable of common sense, when it suits their preconceived ideas, and when it refutes their preconceived ideas. The reason that close-minded people are prone to hate is because they are afraid of innovation and change, and these fears lead to anger, and this anger leads to hate. You see then how unreasonableness leads to wrongful hate.
As your other dangerous extreme, you say that open-minded people go off into bizarre thinking directions beyond reason. To go beyond what I now think is reasonable is to dare for new truths. Your dangerous extreme sounds appealing. It is by no means insanity. For we must assume that just as the open-minded man is open to experimental ideas, he is also open to common sense and sensibility, and will live by common sense. Since he is wise, he will choose the reasonable, but first he experiments to see all the options, deciding from all the data what is reasonable and what is unreasonable. It is commons sense that we grow through experimentation. It is also commons sense that we protect ourselves from dangerous experimentation. Since the open-minded man is open to common sense as well as experimentation, he will put everything into context.
Therefore, a man cannot be too open-minded, for the more open-minded he is, the more he will be open-minded to common sense. The close-minded man, who sees the world as comfortable as possible, will use common sense when it fits him, and will deny that common sense is common sense when it does not fit him. He will not admit to error or change his fundamental flaws. A man cannot be too open-minded, but if he is too close-minded, he will be blinded to life, and will thus kill himself.
People are very open-minded about new things…as long as they're exactly like the old ones! - Charles Kettering
This week’s featured strength is Open-Mindedness.
Open-mindedness is the willingness to search actively for evidence against one’s favored beliefs, plans, or goals, and to weigh such evidence fairly when it is available.
Being open-minded does not imply that one is indecisive, wishy-washy, or incapable of thinking for one’s self. After considering various alternatives, an open-minded person can take a firm stand on a position and act accordingly.
The opposite of open-mindedness is what is called the myside bias which refers to the pervasive tendency to search for evidence and evaluate evidence in a way that favors your initial beliefs. Most people show myside bias, but some are more biased than others.
Benefits of Open-Mindedness
Research suggests the following benefits of open-mindedness:
- Open-minded, cognitively complex individuals are less swayed by singular events and are more resistant to suggestion and manipulation.
- Open-minded individuals are better able to predict how others will behave and are less prone to projection.
- Open-minded individuals tend to score better on tests of general cognitive ability like the SAT or an IQ test. (Of course we don’t know whether being open-minded makes one smarter or vice versa.)
Open-Mindedness as a “Corrective Virtue”
Social and cognitive psychologists have noted widespread errors in judgment/thinking to which we are all vulnerable. In order to be open-minded, we have to work against these basic tendencies, leading virtue ethicists to call open-mindedness a corrective virtue.
In addition to the myside bias described above, here are three other cognitive tendencies that work against open-minded thinking:
1) Selective Exposure
We maintain our beliefs by selectively exposing ourselves to information that we already know is likely to support those beliefs. Liberals tend to read liberal newspapers, and Conservatives tend to read conservative newspapers.
2) Primacy Effects
The evidence that comes first matters more than evidence presented later. Trial lawyers are very aware of this phenomenon. Once jurors form a belief, that belief becomes resistant to counterevidence.
We tend to be less critical of evidence that supports our beliefs than evidence that runs counter to our beliefs. In an interesting experiment that demonstrates this phenomenon Anchor, researchers presented individuals with mixed evidence on the effectiveness of capital punishment on reducing crime. Even though the evidence on both sides of the issue was perfectly balanced, individuals became stronger in their initial position for or against capital punishment. They rated evidence that supported their initial belief as more convincing, and they found flaws more easily in the evidence that countered their initial beliefs.
What Encourages Open-Mindedness?
Research suggests that people are more likely to be open-minded when they are not under time pressure. (Our gut reactions aren’t always the most accurate.)
Individuals are more likely to be open-minded when they believe they are making an important decision. (This is when we start making lists of pros and cons, seeking the perspectives of others, etc.)
Some research suggests that the way in which an idea is presented can affect how open-minded someone is when considering it. For example, a typical method of assessing open-mindedness in the laboratory is to ask a participant to list arguments on both sides of a complicated issue (e.g., the death penalty, abortion, animal testing). What typically happens is that individuals are able to list far more arguments on their favored side. However, if the researcher then encourages the participant to come up with more arguments on the opposing side, most people are able to do so without too much difficulty. It seems that individuals have these counter-arguments stored in memory but they don’t draw on them when first asked.
Exercises to Build Open-Mindedness
In my readings, I did not uncover any open-mindedness interventions. But in the spirit of creativity/originality (the featured strength 2 newsletters ago), I consulted Catherine Freemire, LCSW [Catherine Freemire, LCSW, Balanced Life Coaching, firstname.lastname@example.org], a clinical therapist and professional coach renowned for her creative thinking. She came up with three exercises for building open-mindedness which I think are definitely worth trying:
- Select an emotionally charged, debatable topic (e.g., abortion, prayer in school, healthcare reform, the current war in Iraq) and take the opposite side from your own. Write five valid reasons to support this view. (While typing Catherine’s idea, I had a related one of my own: If you are conservative in your political beliefs, listen to Al Frankin’s radio show; if you are liberal, listen to Rush Limbaugh! While you are listening, try to avoid the cognitive error of polarization described above.)
- Remember a time when you were wronged by someone in the past. Generate three plausible reasons why this person inadvertently or intentionally wronged you.
- This one is for parents: Think of a topic that you consistently argue about with your teen or grown child. Now, take their position and think of 3 substantial reasons why their point of view is valid. (This could also be done with spouses or any family members for that matter!)
I hope you enjoyed this newsletter! See you in two weeks when we discuss the character strength, Love of Learning.
Baron, J. (2000). Thinking and deciding (3rd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kuhn, D. (1991). The skills of argument. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Peterson, C. and Seligman, M. E. P. (Eds.). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stanovich, K. E. (1999). Who is rational? Studies of individual differences in reasoning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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