During conversations about a controversial topics like politics, religion and science, you’ll probably hear the phrase ‘you’ve got to be more open minded!’ Those are the contexts I usually hear the phrase and often times it is used as way to escape an argument that isn’t going in your favour. It’s based on a misunderstanding of what it actually means to be ‘open-minded’.
Open-mindedness is the willingness to consider new ideas.
Open-mindedness is not accepting information and ideas uncritically.
When discussing the theory of evolution, I have been told I’m close-minded because I don’t accept the alternate theories. The story is the same with belief in ghosts and horoscopes. When you come across a new idea or argument, your aim should be to evaluate whether or not the supporting evidence is strong enough for it to be regarded as truth. Especially if the idea is being presented as fact.
For example, this sometimes happens with alternative medicine. If someone recommends something like homeopathy to help solve a problem, it’s not bad to be skeptical towards at first. Nor is it wrong to oppose it in someway because you’ve researched it and come to the conclusion that it is either useless or harmful. Requesting evidence does not make you close-minded.
It is also important to understand the difference between dismissing an idea and not believing in one. This is how caricatures of peoples arguments form which leads to them shouting ‘you’re just being close-minded!’ If I say ‘I do not believe in unicorns’ it does not mean ‘Unicorns can’t exist’ or ‘you’re stupid for believing in unicorns’ or ‘unicorns are ugly’. It just means I haven’t been convinced they exist. By misrepresenting their position, they’re rehearsing their own prejudices on the person without consideration of their opinion. Which is quite the opposite of being open minded.
With all of this being said, we don’t need evidence for everything that we’re told. Always demanding evidence when a friend tells you a story is an easy way to lose a friend. It’s when someone is trying to make to accept something as fact or make you do something you doubt that you should be more alert and willing to ask them to support what they’re saying in some way. It helps us determine what is true or false in important situations.
Being open minded is not merely about believing in things. That would be too easy and make you far too gullible. There isn’t much value in believing any story or adopting a belief just because it sounds interesting. It is the willingness to consider ideas, assess them for what they are and determine whether or not you accept them.
However, it is difficult. No one enjoys finding out what they believe might be wrong. No one enjoys having their world view shaken and disturbed but sometimes it happens. It leaves us vulnerable. Which is why many people ignore things that contradict an opinion dear to them and take solace in a closed mind.
An open mind without a filter will attract a lot of rubbish. Properly assessing what you come across and being willing to consider new ideas is an invaluable skill we should all aim to improve.
Do you think you’re open minded?