In various interactions with friends, acquaintances, and speakers, I have often listened to people’s desire to be more open-minded and understanding of others’ differing perspectives. It is often said to be an easy thing to do or “common sense.” In my experience, this value tends not to be the norm, but the exception. Why is it a quality so hard to find in many mediums of discourse? To make matters even more baffling for my brain, it seems to me that those who claim open-mindedness often do not exhibit the traits or actions that would fit the definition (or my understanding) of an open mind. The individual truly possessing the trait would not close off the mind to ideas that are different than their own (e.g. covering ears, shouting, or firm dismissal). He or she would not attack the character of a person who supports an idea contradictory to his or her belief system. An open-minded person is intellectually honest, promotes civil discourse, and can understand that the beliefs they value may be inconsistent or not fully developed in light of new experiences and knowledge. An open-minded person would not hate or distance themselves from those who think or believe differently. If most people were accepting, then the state of intellectual discourse in America, fake news, thought-policing, and misrepresentation of information would not be the norm, but the exception.
An intellectually honest person would be able to be truly open-minded. In short, intellectual honesty is the ability to stand by one’s beliefs and values and hold them to logical conclusions and assumptions. The type of person with this trait would be someone who can see how influences and experiences inform thinking and rationalizations. He or she would also be able to understand that biases may not be the truth or complete truth and are willing to evaluate values to form a complete understanding after consideration.
The purpose of this article is to encourage or challenge people to be truly open-minded and to help foster a culture that promotes discourse and intellectual honesty. To do this, I ask the following questions that I think that an open-minded person would ask themselves. It is not an easy thing to do. It is hard. It is easy to believe that you are right. It is scary to find yourself to be incorrect. It is triggering. It can offend what you feel to be true. But it is a significant endeavor that one cannot ignore. This effort requires “taking the road less traveled by.”
Do I know what I believe and why I believe it?
This question is important for obvious reasons, but it is important because if I can’t articulate my beliefs and why I think what I think, then it would be hard for people to understand my thought process. It gives me a foundation for discourse and a filter to analyze messages.
Have I ever questioned how my experiences and worldview inform my beliefs?
This level of introspection is necessary because it helps to affirm or challenge my personal views. It is important to doubt the foundation my beliefs, because it creates within me a hunger to prove or validate my opinions and be made sure in my convictions.
Can I admit that I do not have all the answers and that I am not an expert on everything?
This level of humility is vital because it is a recognition that I am human. Admitting this to myself and others in discourse is not a sign of weakness or losing. It is a sign of internal strength and honesty that should be valued. It can also fuel my desire to strive to know more.
Do I research the information that people share and form my conclusions based on the sources and evidence provided?
This question is important to ask because I should not believe everything that someone says. It also means that I should not shut out everything that someone says. It takes real maturity for me to listen to a message and form my conclusion about the facts and evidence presented.
Am I truly open-minded? If not, can I admit to myself that I might be closed-minded about certain issues?
Based on the title of this article, it is a hard question to validate, but it is ok for me to be close-minded. It is not ok to admit that I am never close-minded. Being close-minded in a healthy informed way is possible after I have understood the complexity and nuances of a particular issue and formed my concise opinion. It does not mean I can’t listen; it means that I can judge if an opinion is valid or not and make an informed choice not to consider it.
Am I willing to admit that there is merit to the ideas of the person with whom I am discoursing?
Every person has their own experiences that shape their view of the world. It is important for me to remember that I can learn from other people’s experiences. It does not mean that I have to believe that their experience of the world is truer than my own, but it means that I should be willing to learn about their experiences and how my understanding of the world relates to theirs. (Hopefully, this works in the reverse as well).
Am I willing to admit that I may be wrong or unsure of my belief system?
This question is the hardest question for me personally. It is ok for me to affirm this question. It is not a statement that says I am a bad or evil person. It is a statement that I am a growing, learning person, who seeks after knowledge. This question challenges the very core of who I am and how I answered the first question. By answering this question, I have an intellectual obligation to respond to myself and others involved in discourse. I could respond by denial, admission, or research to evaluate my belief system based on evidence provided and form a new conclusion.
These and related questions are the hallmarks of an open-minded person. An open-minded person is reflective and willing to say “I don’t know”. He or she believes that saying “I don’t know” or “I am not sure” is not an admission that his or her beliefs are inherently invalidated, but that he or she needs to reflect on how this new knowledge can inform the values that the open minded person holds dear. They would welcome the opportunity to say “I don’t know” or “I never thought about it that way”. These assessments should be encouraged not vilified or discouraged. Remembering these forms of self-reflecting questions can aid in the free, uninterrupted discourse between two different ideas that are discussed or posited. To avoid asking myself these questions will make me an accomplice in subverting intellectual discourse in mainstream society.