What if I told you a friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer and modern medicine had no answers?
What if I told you that in a last ditch effort to save his life, he turned to holistic treatment, and with just food and herbal supplements, in 9 months, he cured his cancer?
What would you think?
Would you want to know more about the holistic treatment used or would you reject it as fantasy?
The cancer story above is not true.
The purpose of the story is to gauge your reaction to a new idea that doesn’t fit in with your world view. This example works because even though most of us don’t understand cancer, the idea of curing terminal cancer with supplements does not seem possible, at least unlikely.
So, how did you react? What do you normally do when faced with a new idea that is in conflict with what you believe?
Do you want to know more? If you don’t believe in holistic treatment, did you consider that you might be wrong?
Being secure enough to consider new ideas is the mark of an open-minded person. It’s the willingness to consider that you might be wrong and that a new idea might be right.
I view open-mindedness as ‘an optimism towards new ideas,’ and I think everyone should cultivate their open-mindedness.
You don’t want to become that old person who won’t touch a computer and can’t stop living in the past.
But can you be too open-minded? And if you are closed minded, is there a way you can become more open-minded? What happens if you remain closed-minded?
I hope to discuss this and more below.
What does it REALLY mean to be open minded?
Being open-minded isn’t being gullible. It doesn’t mean believing everything you hear. It means observing the world with the curiosity of a 5 year old, but evaluating your observations like a scholar.
How readily you accept new ideas as truth is determined by two factors: 1) the willingness to consider a new idea and 2) the threshold of evidence required to adopt the new idea as truth.
Being open-minded is about the first part: How willing are you to just consider a new idea?
Given this definition, I’d argue that we should maximize our open-mindedness. We shouldn’t believe anything without proof part 2), but we should consider all ideas possible if we can’t directly refute them with evidence (part 1).
This is the essence of being an open-minded person.
So, how open-minded are you?
The Dangers Of Being Closed-Minded
I view life as a learning process.
We enter the world with our senses and some basic instincts. From that point forward, we use our senses to experience the world and in the process we passively and actively create a world view. Family, school, books, personal experiences, and society all contribute to our refinement of this view.
Our life is an endless process of living in accordance with our beliefs and gathering new information to refine them. Sometimes we actively seek new information (college, travel, reading) and other times, without seeking it, we are faced with contradictory evidence that needs to be assimilated into our view of the world.
This isn’t always easy.
Humans are comforted by the fact that they know something to be true. Our world view is based on what we believe is true, and that world view is something we rely on. It’s natural to become attached to this world view and, for many people, their gut reaction is to reject any idea that challenges what they believe.
As we age, evidence piles up and we do our best to fit that evidence into our world view. Although we start off naive and open-minded, with very little trust in our own world view, over time, the opposite becomes true and we develop a high level of confidence in our personal beliefs.
While this confidence in our understanding of the world is good in that it helps us efficiently navigate our daily lives, it’s bad because we don’t have perfect information.
Our experience is a microcosm of the world around us. Not only that, but it’s been tainted by the sometimes rigid and biased views of our closest influences (family, religion, society).
The fact of the matter is that the body of human knowledge grows faster than any one person can keep up with. Nobody has a completely accurate world view.
Do You Think You Know Everything?
Closed-mindedness is being over confident in your beliefs. It’s being attached to your world view and being unwilling to change your beliefs when faced with facts that don’t make sense.
Closed-mindedness is dangerous because it’s anti-learning and anti-growth.
The process of learning is one of exposing yourself to new ideas and experiences and resolving them into your world view. The more attached you are to your beliefs, the less efficiently and successfully you are able to learn.
Your world view is wrong at worst and incomplete at best. The sooner you realize this, the sooner your world view becomes adaptable, the sooner your understanding of the world will increase.
Being Closed-Minded Creates Pain In Your Life
Any attachment you have creates pain. The more attached you become to your world view, the more difficult it is for you to try new things and evaluate new ideas. A completely rigid set of beliefs cuts someone off from anything that is new. They are afraid of the world around them because they ignore or reject what they don’t understand.
In many ways, closed-mindedness makes you pessimistic. You view new ideas in a negative way. Sometimes the only way to resolve a new idea with your world view is to discredit the person and consider them a liar. In both ways, your daily experience is one of pessimism.
Being closed-minded is a one way ticket to becoming that bitter old person that hates their life and can’t understand what the world has become.
You don’t want that to happen to you, do you?
Why You Are Better Off Being Open-Minded
Open-minded people have a better understanding of life because they view life as a journey and learning experience.
For an open-minded person, the whole point of life is to learn. To try new things, meet new people, and slowly perfect your view of the world.
Open-minded people benefit from the continuous expansion of human knowledge because they aren’t tied to old ideas. They are on the cutting edge.
Open-mindedness allows you to be more optimistic and comfortable in the world because you aren’t threatened by the unknown, you’re excited by it.
Can You Be Too Open-Minded?
Short answer: no.
Remember, being open-minded doesn’t mean you easily accept new ideas as truth (part 2), it just means you are willing to consider them (part 1). Considering new ideas will almost always lead to learning and growth, even if it just means that you’ve ruled out that new idea as false.
Pushing yourself to be more open-minded is essential because the natural human tendency is to grow close-minded with age. The older you get, the more attached you become to your world view because it’s proven itself to be effective over the years.
But this is false logic, just because something hasn’t been proven false doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe you’ve been living with blinders? Have you heard of the confirmation bias?
Just think of the old person who refuses to touch a computer. Look what they miss out on because they’re afraid to try something new. How will they ever get along without reddit, cat pictures, and memes?
Or think of the religious fanatic who rejects modern medicine. They will watch their child die when a cure is readily available. All because they are too stubborn to examine their belief system.
And so I argue that you should seek to be as open-minded as possible, just to break even, just to prevent yourself from forgetting how to think outside the box.
The only time being open-minded is a bad thing is if there is a risk associated with considering a new idea. In this case, you need to be careful, but these situations are few and far between.
How To Cultivate Open-Mindedness
What prevents open-mindedness?
It’s an attachment to our own established answers in life, to our own world view.
The good thing is that if you pay attention, it’s easy to notice when you are being closed minded. It’s definitely something you can change. Here are some tips for becoming more open-minded:
1. When you feel the urge to pass judgement, ask a question.
When open-minded people hear new ideas, they get excited and curious, and they ask questions. It’s natural for them. The natural response of a closed minded person is to pass judgement. When you notice yourself judging an idea, ask yourself, “Am I 100% sure that this idea is wrong?”, “Do I have facts to disprove this idea?”.
If the answer to these questions is no, instead of passing judgment, seek to understand. If you are talking to someone, ask them a question. If you are on the internet, look for more information.
2. Remember past beliefs that you now reject.
One of the best ways to become more open-minded is to prove to yourself that you are fallible. The best way to do this is to come up with examples. Almost anyone can look into the past and identify crazy beliefs that they used to hold. Did you think girls had cooties? Everybody has their own story. For me, I look towards some of the religious and political ideas that I used to believe. The first step towards being open-minded is realizing that you don’t know everything.
3. Listen more.
Open-minded people listen more than they talk because they are always looking for new ideas so they can learn and grow. Instead of talking and debating, try listening. Fight back the urge to argue when someone presents an idea counter to your beliefs. Instead, let them talk and seek to understand why and how they could possibly believe what they believe. Often times, you will be shocked. Regardless, you will definitely learn something about human nature and maybe more.
If you feel like you could be more open-minded, why not challenge yourself to do so?
Here’s an idea:
Have you ever taken the time to understand your values and beliefs? If you haven’t, you really should understand what drives you. (There are a lot of ways to introspectively examine your values, but I’ve developed my own method. If you want, download a copy of my eBook to explore your personal values.)
If you understand your values and beliefs, examine them:
Why do you value certain things? Why do you have certain goals? Try to understand the beliefs you hold that make up your world view. Do they all make sense? Whether they do or they don’t, do some research. See if you can find people who disagree with them. What do they have to say?
I guarantee this exercise will open your eyes.
Thanks for reading! If you appreciated the article, please let me know in the comments and share it with your friends. It would mean a lot to me.