Open Mind, Closed Mind
Sometimes I look at the comments people make online, and I wonder how they got so closed minded.
I’ll watch Facebook debates between two politically divided people. No one’s mind is ever changed, and the arguments become circular with each person feeling more and more right after each jab. How is it possible to have an argument where both parties believe they’re more correct after each disagreement?
I think a clue can be found in the terms open-minded and closed-minded. An open mind has yet to be shaped by any events or preconceptions; a closed mind is a house built on experience, trauma, connection, and pain.
It’s not necessarily bad to have a closed mind. My therapist told me that making the right choices in life depends on how tightly you’ve defined your values. And what is the process of defining values if it isn’t closing your mind?
Today, as an example, I decided that if I ever got a tattoo on my body it would say YMMV, which stands for Your Mileage May Vary, which means that we all have different experiences. That’s a value. I’ve decided to believe in it. I’ve closed my mind a little as a result.
I don’t think it’s possible to prevent this from happening, actually. As we move throughout our lives, our minds are constantly moving from an open state to a closed state. That’s inevitable. The question, then, is not how we can be more open minded. The question is how we can put ourselves in a position to allow our minds to be easily changed.
I may have closed my mind at a rate that is typical for a 34 year old, slowly at first in grade school and then accelerating a bit in my 20’s. I’m as closed minded as anyone else, because I’ve had enough life experience to justify the things I believe. But to change my mind? It’s a lateral move, not a vertical one.
I can have a closed mind all my life about, say, a political issue and then over time have my beliefs slowly change. I didn’t approach anything with an open mind, because that’s impossible. You can’t untie the shoe that’s been in the process of being tied for 34 years.
But you can change its texture, its color. You can change the way you walk, the way you kick the stones on the road you’re paving. You can’t easily have an open mind, but you can easily change your mind.
Language is so important. All my life I’ve heard “have an open mind” as if it was finger food at a party. It would be wiser, instead, to teach our children to let their minds change without resistance. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question what we believe, but that we shouldn’t trick ourselves into believing that we even can open our mind.
Because in the process of allowing the world to change our mind, we also allow our mind to change the world.