Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Being Open-Minded, Really

Most people I know would consider themselves open-minded. I can't readily think of anyone whose path I've crossed who has outright told me they aren't. The vast majority of my network of acquaintances, friends, family, and colleagues -- myself included -- probably believe they are the type of people who are open to new ideas, opinions, and viewpoints.

And I believe that in many ways, and probably most of the time, they are. But experience (my own behavior and my observance of others' behavior) has led me to also believe that it is easy to preach, much harder to practice.

Being open-minded becomes a challenge when the new idea, opinion, or viewpoint conflicts with a strongly-held belief or a long-standing way of seeing the world. And the longer we've had that belief or seen the world as we do, the harder it becomes to truly open ourselves up to conflicting ideas. You naturally have a bias toward your own viewpoints and experiences. So do I.

No learning takes place if we don't let conflicting ideas enter our minds. If you only allow someone's different viewpoint to strengthen the one you already hold, you've missed a great opportunity to grow. The political discourse in our country (or at least the part the media tend to show us) is a perfect example of what a colossal waste of time it is to engage in a dialogue where both major parties are simultaneously trying to 1) convince the other side their point of view is right and 2) prevent themselves from entertaining the other side's. And while it's easy to pick on politicians, it happens to all of us at one point or another.

So the next time someone offers an idea or perspective that conflicts with one you've previously held, and you feel the urge to resist it, ask yourself three questions:

1. Am I really being open-minded?

2. Am I really being open-minded?

3. Am I really being open-minded?

Repeat if necessary.

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