Recently I’ve been working on a (very exciting!) presentation on open-mindedness, and it occurred to me that it’s been awhile since I’ve written about it here. (Though 7 Benefits of Being Open-Minded is still one of my most popular posts!) To me, this is one of the most important topics in our culture right now (so much so that I’m even thinking of writing a book about it!), so I’ll probably be sharing a lot of that here, but first, let’s start out with what it means to be open-minded.
The dictionary defines “open-minded” as “willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced,” but to me it’s so much more than that. Open-mindedness is like positivity: it requires self-knowledge, patience, and, depending on your culture and temperament, lots and lots of practice. It’s much more complex that just being open to new ideas. Here are the six traits I consider essential for open-mindedness.
- Consider different perspectives + beliefs
Those with open minds are open to considering different points of view, perspectives, beliefs, ideas, etc. This might seem incredibly obvious, but it’s trickier than you might think. Consider, for a moment, something you believe strongly in (a religion, the rights of a certain group of people, someone you love) and then think about the last time you openly thought about a different perspective. It’s easier to do when encountering a new idea, but it’s something truly open-minded people do even when it comes to deeply held beliefs.
- Recognize + fight against desires for generality + closure
As humans, we have strong desires to label things clearly so we can understand them. We want to put things into neat little boxes so that we can identify them. Likewise, we have a desire to get answers that are clear and final. We love closure. Those with open minds recognize that concepts like generalization and closure are alluring, but they aren’t always useful. Open-minded people see these built in human desires and fight against them to seek truth rather than answers.
- Accept + embrace the concept of ambivalence
The concept of ambivalence, or having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone, isn’t always an easy one for people to grasp. As stated in #2, we want answers and clarity. We want to know that there is a conclusion or at least an explanation. Open-minded people realize that this isn’t always the case, that there are often many situations in which feelings will be mixed, in which they might hold two contradicting ideas about something. Rather than resist this, open-minded people accept it and strive to embrace it.
- Understand thoughts are warped + distorted
All the thoughts we think are distorted in some way. We are influenced not only by our moods, cultures, stress-levels, surroundings, etc., but we’re also limited by what we can humanly observe with our five senses. Open-minded people seek to recognize the ways in which their own thoughts (or the thoughts of others) might be warped, and factor those distortions into account when making decisions, taking action, or aligning themselves with a belief.
- View open-mindedness as a skill requiring practice
Open-minded people recognize that open-mindedness, like any worthwhile skill, requires practice. It’s something that comes more easily to some (depending on how they were raised, what culture they come from, what kind of personality they have, etc.), but regardless of what skill level they started with, open-minded people know that they need to keep practicing to keep their open-mindedness ability sharp.
- Create opportunities to rethink assumptions
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, those with open minds give themselves opportunities to rethink assumptions and consider new perspectives. They recognize the limitations of their own minds and cultures, and they actively seek out sources that will help them explore new ways of thinking. They know that what they believed at one point might not still be true today, so they work to rethink about assumptions. In a world that makes it easy to surround yourself with what’s familiar, open-minded people create opportunities for themselves to learn new ways of thinking and explore a variety of points of view.
Staying open-minded is a skill, and a particularly challenging one to cultivate in an age when we’re all being fed information, advertisements, articles, etc. that align with what we’ve already said we like. We’re all in individual bubbles, tailored just for us, which is why we have to work even harder to keep our minds (and hearts!) open.
If you consider yourself an open-minded person, what would you add to this list? If you struggle to keep an open mind, what would you like to learn more about to enhance that skill? Also, if you have any great stories about being (or struggling to be) open-minded, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!