The Anatomy Of Open-Mindedness

The plea to “be more open-minded” often falls on deaf ears.

But why is that?

Is it because it’s too difficult to be open-minded? Or are people simply not interested in being open-minded?

To answer these questions it’s important to understand what open-mindedness means and to consider the factors that can impede open-mindedness.

So What IS Open-Mindedness?

Before we get to what open-mindedness is, let’s look at what it isn’t.

Being open-minded doesn’t mean you accept all opinions as being true or equally valid.

You can be open-minded and disagree with others.

That’s right, you can be open-minded and think that others are wrong.

Open-mindedness isn’t simply about being open to new ideas, but also about being mindful of the ideas that you do accept.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
~ Aristotle

Your mind is a powerful filter, which you don’t want to ignore or bypass.

It helps you develop a consistent understanding of reality that allows you to make sense of the world and take appropriate action to lead a fulfilling life.

Imagine agreeing with all opinions and values that come your way. What would your life be like?

To be open-minded doesn’t mean that you stop filtering ideas, but that you’re willing to adjust your filters and reconsider your own beliefs.

“Don’t be too open-minded, or your brain will fall out.”
~ Anonymous

Sounds simple in theory, but can feel impossible in practice.

To develop an open-minded attitude, you need to distinguish between three things:

  • You
  • Your beliefs
  • The truth

And the two biggest reasons for why open-mindedness is so difficult are:

1- We identify with our beliefs: We use our beliefs as an identity by saying “I’m a Christian” or “I’m a Muslim” or “I’m an Atheist.” And when our beliefs are questioned, we feel threatened. When our ideas are rejected, we feel insulted. If you consider your beliefs who you are, you won’t be willing to consider other points of view and you’ll get defensive in order to protect your beliefs. But your beliefs don’t define you. They express your understanding of the truth right now, and you have the choice to consider other beliefs and opinions.

2- We consider our beliefs to be the truth: If we equate our beliefs with the truth, then there’s not much room for open-mindedness, and we can get very frustrated with others who don’t share our convictions. When we get into a discussion, we’re not interested in listening, but speaking. That’s because we have the truth and others are obviously wrong, since they disagree with us. But by maintaining the distinction between our beliefs and the truth, we become more open to consider other points of view and to listen to what others have to say.

Open-mindedness requires us to maintain the distinctions between who we are, what we believe and what the truth is.

What Open-Mindedness Looks Like

An open-minded individual strives to develop a better understanding of the world and is willing to listen to other people’s beliefs and opinions, to learn from their insights.

He doesn’t feel obliged to agree with others, but respects their right to their own convictions, without trying to force his own views on them.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
~ Evelyn Beatrice Hall

He’s not embarrassed to admit his own ignorance, or when he has made an intellectual error.

He doesn’t need to resort to rationalizations to justify his beliefs and is prepared to listen to criticisms without being offended.

Not only does he consider other people’s opinions, but he’s willing to look at life – or any topic being discussed – from another person’s worldview (i.e. the framework used to understand the world).

Our opinions make perfect sense when we look at them through our own ideological lens, and other opinions seem wrong from that perspective. But what if there’s a flaw in our worldview? Are we prepared to revise our basic beliefs and assumptions?

Since we want to get a better understanding of the world, there’s no use in clinging to our beliefs because they’re more familiar and comfortable to us. That would turn our beliefs into an obstacle rather than a bridge towards the truth.

There’s nothing mindful about that.

Open-Mindedness And Holistic Growth

Being open-minded impacts all areas of our life and is an essential precursor to personal growth.

We cannot experience Spiritual enlightenment if we refuse to abandon limiting beliefs.

We cannot develop our Intellectual awareness if we fail to consider other opinions and perspectives.

We cannot create a healthy Psychological mindset if we feel threatened when our beliefs are questioned.

We cannot build strong Social relationships if we’re not prepared to listen to others, or when we seek to force our own views on them.

We cannot achieve Professional success if we choose to do business the way we’ve always done, without considering new approaches and embracing changing trends.

We cannot discover new Recreational activities and experiences if we only want to stick to what we already know and feel comfortable with.

We cannot enhance our Physical well-being if we’re not prepared to question conventional wisdom about diet and health.

Cultivating an open-mind is an investment that allows us to reap great rewards that can never be realized without it.

Haider Al-Mosawi writes about holistic growth through balanced living over at PersonalGrowthmap.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter (@haideralmosawi).