What is open-mindedness?

It’s likely a question we’ve all thought about before, probably after someone tells us that we should be more open-minded.  The funny part is this often comes from someone who just wants you to agree with them, showing that they themselves are actually quite close-minded.

This will be another reference post to help explain a topic that will be related to in future posts.

I think I’ve always naturally been A LITTLE more open-minded than others.  As a result, I have had a fairly hard time when engaging in debates.

At some point, I developed a habit.  This habit has been given a name with quite the negative connotation, and it took me awhile to even realize that this is exactly what I was doing.  Playing Devil’s Advocate.

Whenever someone would tell me something, regardless of how logical and undeniable it was, I would think of an alternative (sometimes quite ridiculous in nature) that made the original point false.

Even if I agreed with the original statement I would always think of SOME WAY to view it differently.  Our brains tend to gravitate toward the close-minded approach, protecting our beliefs with a fierce resistance to any and all that oppose them.

I’ve upset quite a few people in doing this and been told many times that I just like to argue.  To me, I was simply looking outside the box, but to others, I just wanted to start a fight about anything and everything.

Over the years this taught me to keep these ideas to myself.  If other people just thought less of me for it, what was the use in trying to expand their perspective?  However, in succumbing to this we massively hinder our growth as a species due to the countless ideas that are abandoned.

Now, I’m not trying to say that I’m an open-minded prodigy of some kind.  The negative experiences I had often resulted in the way I presented my ideas as an attack, rather than a suggestion.  However, open-mindedness is still a two-way street.  In fact, its definition DEPENDS on there being at least two people present.

What Does it Mean to be Open Minded? The Gift of Knowledge

Open Mindedness Defined:

Open-mindedness is how receptive we are to new ideas.  It relates to how we handle the views and knowledge of others.  Being open-minded means we hold the beliefs that:

  1. Others have the right to express their opinions.
  2. The knowledge of others has inherent value.

So as we can see, open-mindedness fails to exist without the input of ideas from external sources.

Now let’s talk about why our brains naturally take the close-minded route.

It goes back once again to the millions of years of evolution that led us to this point.  Our brains don’t like it when they cant make sense of a situation.  Any and every scenario that we don’t understand is viewed as a threat to our survival by the more primitive parts of our brain.

These parts hate ambiguity so much that they will create reasoning for things we don’t understand, even if that reasoning doesn’t make much logical sense.  This happens so automatically that we rarely even notice when it occurs.  We subconsciously create deep-seated beliefs that down the line we will defend to a great extent, without even fully knowing why we hold them.

Here’s an example to clarify the concept:

  • Situation: We notice a new deli has opened that we pass every day on our way to work.  It would be nice to stop there for breakfast on rushed days, however, we notice that the open sign is not lit each morning when we pass by.  Ah, they must not open early enough for me to stop on my way to work, too bad.
  • Belief Formed: The deli is not yet open when I’m on my way to work, so there is no reason to ever consider it as an option.
  • Potential Reality: Maybe the deli IS open when we pass, but the owner turns on the sign after he finishes the other opening procedures, resulting in you just barely missing the sign each morning.  Since we believe the deli is not yet open, we never even considered this and have been missing out on a convenient breakfast option.
  • Future Defense of Belief: We hear a coworker that lives near us mention that they love the new deli in town so much that they stop there every morning.  Our immediate response based on our held belief would probably be something like: “What?! I pass that deli every morning and they are NEVER open! Are you sure you have the right deli in mind?

What is Open Mindedness? Open Sign

Our brains first response is ALWAYS to take its own side.  This happens instantly, before we even have the time to think: “He doesn’t have any reason to lie about something so simple, I must have been mistaken all this time”.  Now, this is a very black and white situation and probably wouldn’t take most people very long to be convinced they were wrong.

Apply this process to more abstract ideas though, and things can get messy very quickly.

Coming to the realization that this occurs in our brain almost constantly might leave us thinking: “What the heck?! I don’t want my brain to make decisions subconsciously!” and it’s a completely natural reaction.

However, this process also does us a lot of good.  It happens to preserve our brain power.  Without these assumptions we make, we would have to consciously think through every. single. thing. we. do.  This autopilot handles the mundane tasks of life to leave our brain free for other endeavors.

So although in our example above the brain was mistaken, had it been correct we would have been saving ourselves from going through that whole debate of whether or not they are open EVERY MORNING.  Instead, our brain learns that the deli is closed, and we don’t give it a single conscious thought from there on out.

This leaves us with much more energy to tackle new situations and problems as they arrive rather than having to solve the same problems from scratch again and again.  Without this natural habit-forming ability, it would be impossible for us to progress and learn new skills and abilities.  We’d be more than occupied just trying to cater to our basic needs for survival.

These beliefs can also be thought of as frames of reference. Without them, each new day would be like being born again for the first time.  So although this aspect of our cognition may not always pan out perfectly for us, it is still essential to our existence.

Thought Exchange

To give an even better understanding, I’m going to give a more in-depth example and show the various outcomes of it based on the open-mindedness of each individual.

Setting: Tim and Eric are generally friendly to each other, but their relationship doesn’t extend beyond that of being co-workers.  Tim has been reading a lot about new nutritional findings and in doing so has decided to begin experimenting with a low-carb high-fat diet and intermittent fasting.  Eric still holds the conventional nutritional wisdom that fatty foods are bad for your health and that you should eat small meals spaced throughout the day.

What Does it Mean to be Open Minded Water Cooler Talk

Now let’s see what the different results of Tim sharing his newfound knowledge could be depending on the open-mindedness of each individual:

  • Situation A: Tim is close-minded and Eric is open-minded:
    • Tim: Hey Eric! I’ve been reading a lot about new nutritional studies, and it turns out that a low-carb high-fat diet is the healthiest option!  I also read that fasting for most of the day and eating in a small feeding window can be a very effective way to burn fat.  I’m going to give it a try!
    • Eric: Really? Hm. That’s interesting.  I always thought they said fatty foods were bad and that you should eat—
    • Tim: (interrupting) Yeah all that stuff is totally wrong.  Old news. If you follow that logic you’ll never get in shape.  High-fat low-carb and a restricted eating window are the only way to go!
    • Eric: I’ll have to look into it myself.  Although I do know plenty of people that are fit and healthy and follow conventional wisdom.  I guess what works for some won’t work for others.
    • Tim: Sounds like those people just have a naturally fast metabolism.  They’ll be in trouble when it slows down as they get older! You should definitely check it out though! This is the way we were MEANT to eat. Take it easy man!
    • Eric: You too, and thanks for the info!

Not too bad, now let’s swap their inclination to new ideas.

  • Situation B: Tim is open minded and Eric is close-minded:
    • Tim: Hey Eric! I’ve been reading a lot about new nutrition studies, and it turns out that a low-carb high-fat diet is one of the healthiest options!  I also read that fasting for most of the day and eating in a small feeding window can be a very effective way to burn fat.  I’m going to give it a try!
    • Eric: Uhh… what?! That’s ridiculous.  Totally the opposite of what they say you should do.  You’re going to hurt yourself man.  You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.
    • Tim: That’s true.  A healthy dose of skepticism never hurt anyone.  However, lots of people are already practicing this and seeing good results!  Plus there are scientific studies to back it up.
    • Eric: Whatever dude.  Good luck with that.  I’m going to stick to what the doctors have been preaching for years.  I’ll be sure to say something nice at your funeral though!
    • Tim: Ha! Thanks man.

Still fairly neutral. Time to spice things up a bit.

  • Situation C: Both Tim and Eric are close-minded (this is gonna get ugly)
    • Tim: Hey Eric! I’ve been reading a lot about new nutrition studies, and it turns out that a low-carb high-fat diet is the healthiest option!  I also read that fasting for most of the day and eating in a small feeding window can be a very effective way to burn fat.  I’m going to give it a try!
    • Eric: Uhh… what?! That’s ridiculous.  Totally the opposite of what they say you should do.  You’re going to hurt yourself man.  You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.
    • Tim: Yeah..  I don’t believe everything I read online.  This IS the healthiest way to eat.  These new studies directly disprove conventional wisdom.  Everyone’s been wrong about it all this time.
    • Eric:  So you’re saying that a few new studies can overturn the YEARS of research that has gone into our nutrition? Yeah ok man. Whatever you say.
    • Tim: Everything is constantly changing! It is inevitable! We MUST accept change or be left behind by the rest of society.  I guess you never were a very adaptable person though.
    • Eric: WOW!  I see how it is.  What does my higher salary say about my adaptability then huh?
    • Tim: Screw you man!  The only reason for that is because you’ve been here longer than me! You’ll see where I end up!
    • Eric: Ok Tim.  Keep living in your world of delusions while the rest of us get some work done. (walking away)
    • Tim: (Voice raised) I’ll show you! Just wait!

YIKES!

  • Situation D: Both Tim and Eric are open-minded:What Does it Mean to be Open Minded? Great Job
    • Tim: Hey Eric! I’ve been reading a lot about new nutrition studies, and it turns out that a low-carb high-fat diet is one of the healthiest options!  I also read that fasting for most of the day and eating in a small feeding window can be a very effective way to burn fat.  I’m going to give it a try!
    • Eric: Really? Hm. That’s interesting.  I always thought they said fatty foods were bad and that you should eat multiple small meals throughout the day.  What you’ve just told me is basically the polar opposite of that!
    • Tim: I know but these new studies are pretty convincing. Not to mention all the people who are trying it with good results.  The important part about fat is that you are eating the RIGHT fats.  Many of the common oils used in processed food today are the real problem. Natural fats are actually really good for us!
    • Eric:  Ahh, I see. That makes sense.  Nothing processed seems very trustworthy to me.  Why the low-carbs though? Aren’t carbohydrates our bodies main source of fuel?
    • Tim: That is true, however, our body cannot use carbs in the quantity that most modern food has.  So basically we need a lot fewer carbs to function than most people think!  Once again though, the source of the carbs themselves plays a big role, and processed grains and sugars should be avoided entirely.  There are much healthier natural sources.
    • Eric: Well I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that sugar is bad for you.  What about highly active people though, wouldn’t they require a higher carb intake than the average person?
    • Tim: Good point.  Nutrition is definitely NOT a one size fits all situation.  That’s why I think everyone should experiment until they find what works the best for them.  As long as you’re fit and have plenty of energy throughout the day then do you!
    • Eric: I agree completely.  That being said, I’m very interested in this new information you’ve given me. Where did you hear about it? I’d like to look into it myself.
    • Tim: I found it through (so and so), but there are tons of valuable sources to be perused online by simply searching for “low-carb high-fat diet” and “intermittent fasting”
    • Eric: Awesome. Thanks for the info! I’ll definitely check it out. Have a good one!
    • Tim: Any time man. You too!

So many drastically different situations can stem from any one conversation, and as we can see open-mindedness plays a HUGE role in the direction it takes.

I think we can all agree that Situation D is by far the best of these outcomes.  When both Tim and Eric are open-minded they convey the highest amount of information compared to the other situations.  Situation D also leaves both parties feeling the most fulfilled from this interaction; Tim feels satisfied that he has passed on helpful knowledge to another, who was gracious for the info, and Eric is excited to research and learn more about this new topic.

Situation C on the other hand… well it’s really just a mess.  In this scenario, Eric feels he is being personally attacked when Tim tells him a long-held belief of his is blatantly wrong.  Eric proceeds to defend his belief like a badge of honor by brushing off Tim’s new ideas as nonsense.  This, in turn, makes Tim feel he’s being attacked.  Next, both parties feeling offended, the entire interaction takes a twist.  It ceases to be about diet and nutrition at all and descends into a personal insult contest in which each of them tries to prove they are better than the other.  No one wins and both Tim and Eric leave the interaction feeling angry or stressed.

What Does it Mean to be Open Minded? Unlock Your Mind

An Open Mind is the Way!

This post should give us a much clearer idea of what it means to be open-minded and answer that question: “What is open-mindedness?”.  It also shows us what open-mindedness looks like in life, and how being close-minded can really degrade our interactions.

If you liked this post be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts!  If another article led you here, and you’d like to go back and finish reading, here’s a link.

Opening our minds gives our mindfulness room to grow and explore any option we (or others) can think of.  Have a great day, and try to view things from a different perspective.  It might just show you a whole new world.

 

 


2 Comments

Dave · May 11, 2018 at 3:46 AM

Hallo there,

I can relate to your idea since we are, or should I say were, pretty much the same. I have always loved to look for things to argue with others when the fact is pretty solid.

Your new definition of open mindedness makes me see how stupid I have been trying to play the genius. I think it is time to change my view of this subject.

Someone said, the wisest person is the one who is the most stupid in other people’s eyes, because he gets along with everyone. It is something I will want to try out.

Thanks

    Jordan · May 12, 2018 at 4:49 PM

    You’re very welcome!  One of my biggest goals is to explain concepts we are all familiar with in a unique and easy to digest manner.

    It is very easy to fall into the trap of picking battles that cannot be won.  Only by being fully open to the ideas of others can we expect them to reciprocate.

    I really like that quote!  Interesting way to highlight how sensitive we are to having our ideas challenged.  Do you happen to know who said it first?

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