Most of the time we go about our daily business consciously aware of what we are doing but rarely giving any thought to why we’re doing it. We perform routine tasks habitually, and when something out of the ordinary does occur, our reaction is usually automatic without giving any thought as to why we react the way we do. In this sense, our minds are closed. This is necessary since it would take far too much time to examine every sensation, thought, feeling or behavior before deciding on the next step.
However, this perfectly normal behavior causes problems when we don’t take the trouble to examine problematic behaviors. Without open-mindedly examining such behaviors, they are likely to continue, constantly making a bad situation even worse. To paraphrase a basic tenet in physics, a behavior in motion will remain in motion until examined.
What does it mean to have an open mind?
Lone Sisk (1900-1994), a highly esteemed professor at Milligan College a generation ago, used to invite students for informal discussions around what he called his “Philosopher’s Log” in the backyard of his campus home. Although he headed the Department of Physics and Chemistry, he wanted his students to know that there was more to life than what could be found in those disciplines. A favorite phrases of his was, “There is always an easier way to do anything.” One needs to have an open mind to find those easier ways.
Having an open mind allows you to examine new ideas. On occasion, you will become aware of something that is new, different and perhaps contrary to your established way of thinking. Rather than thoughtlessly rejecting or discarding these instances, an open mind will allow you to consider whether the idea has merit.
Open-mindedness leads inexorably to an examination of your basic beliefs. Conscious thinking draws on material accumulated over a lifetime and stored subconsciously. These beliefs are stubborn in that, being beliefs, they are true and strongly resist change. That’s why it takes the conscious effort of an open mind to find easier, better, more adaptive ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.
What happens when you have a closed mind?
Several problems crop up if your mind is closed. You are likely to be highly judgmental of others when they are different from you in any way. If their skin color, ethnicity, political orientation or sexual preferences do not coincide with yours, it is likely that you will consider them wrong, misinformed, morally suspect, ignorant or inferior to yourself.
Of course, certain behaviors deserve judgment, but judgment is best rendered only after examining the basic beliefs behind those judgments. Blindly rushing to judgment is evidence of a closed mind.
You may not consider it a problem, but life can be awfully boring if you have a closed mind. Day-to-day routines can be mind-numbingly dull without the variety that comes with open-mindedness. Over the span of the decade, you will have one years’ experience 20 times rather than the richness of 20 years’ experience.
Open-mindedly examining a new situation or idea takes conscious effort in the thinking brain. As readers of this blog know, the subconscious feeling brain will strenuously oppose any such activity since examining a new idea will present a threat to a “true” basic belief. That’s why open-mindedness is so difficult; it goes against what is known, safe and comfortable. The feeling brain likes inertia far more than change.
How to develop open-mindedness
It is tempting to say that to develop an open mind you have to have an open mind, but that would be ridiculous. Seriously, a place to start would be to ask yourself a question or two the next time you encounter a new idea or situation. “Do I agree with this idea? Why, or why not? What would be the advantage/disadvantage to me if I embraced it? What/who is presenting the idea? Is it scientifically valid? Is there a credentialed authority recommending it? Does it run counter to my morals or religious beliefs? How would life be different if I changed my mind? What would I lose if I don’t agree with this idea?” These and similar questions assure that you have an open mind and lead you to choices and decisions that are best for you.
Is it mentally healthy to have an open mind?
Whether one is open- or closed minded does not in itself determine mental health. This is determined by how well basic beliefs are in accord with inbornintentions. Nevertheless, if we were to run a statistical analysis, there would probably be a strong positive correlation between open-mindedness and optimum mental health. But, as we know, correlation does not imply causation.
Remember, you always have the freedom to choose between open and closed mindedness!
For further information
For a better understanding of some terms used in this post, such as “thinking brain,” “feeling brain,” “inbornintentions,” “basic beliefs,” “human dignity,” “sense of accomplishment,” “anxiety,” or “defense mechanisms,” see the Glossary. Alternatively, find a copy of the paperback Pathways to Mental Health and Anxiety Management, available on Amazon.com or the eBook on Kindle, either accessible by clicking on the link on the right of this post.
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