We could all benefit from being more open-minded right now. We all struggle as part of the human experience, and forming a worldview is a necessary part of our lived experiences. People come from different backgrounds that inform their experiences; geography, faith, education, community, race and sexuality divide our understanding of the world around us. We are all human despite our backgrounds, and there is something inherently valuable about our ability to empathize with and understand one another.
With that being said, attempting to understand someone’s worldview does not require you to agree or disagree with them. Just as empathy is integral to the human experience, so too is disagreement. It is a natural consequence of social entanglement that we do not always see eye to eye with each other. Look no further than the debate over the federal vaccine mandate for an example. Governor Ron DeSantis is currently publicly disagreeing with the vaccine order issued by the federal government and enforcing that disagreement by suing the federal government right now (NPR, 2021). The crux of the debate is one of worldview, with each side arguing over who has the authority to regulate a vaccine mandate, or if anyone has that authority at all. The pending lawsuit is an extreme example, but it does showcase that disagreement is common in our culture.
Disagreement is problematic when we make no attempt to understand one another. Having an open mind does not require agreement, but it does require listening; it means “receptive to arguments or ideas” (Merriam-Webster). It means carefully considering an idea without letting internal biases overrun your senses. Above all, being open-minded means one must use critical thinking in considering an idea.
Critical thinking is the intellectual evaluation of ideas. It goes beyond simply having an idea and running with it. To think critically, an idea has to be analyzed for evidence supporting it, critiques against it, and experience gained from that process. One way of defining critical thinking is with the Paul-Eder framework which breaks critical thinking into 3 stages: analysis of the structures of thinking, evaluation of thinking with a focus on quality and improvement of thinking from the previous two stages (What is Critical Thinking?, University of Louisville). By taking time to truly consider why we believe what we believe, we either come away with a more grounded conviction in our beliefs or growth in our ideology.
The true benefits of keeping an open mind come as a result of critical thinking. The fact is that we, as people, are overstimulated by varying and conflicting ideas that almost seem intent to catch us off guard. Suggestive or manipulative tactics generally break down or become less effective if people take the time to analyze an idea and its presentation (Open-Mindedness, University of Pennsylvania). That’s why it is so important to consider new ideas in as unbiased a viewpoint as possible. One major pitfall in keeping an open mind and critical thinking is confirmation bias, where one seeks outsources or claims consistent with what they already believe to be true (Casad, 2019). Depriving oneself of contrary viewpoints is a disservice to one’s own intellectual growth and feelings of empathy for others.
All of this together is to say that we should all slow down and think about how we interact with one another. As technology has advanced, we’ve all grown more connected, and we express ourselves more frequently and instantly. This isn’t a generational issue where kids these days are too prone to instant gratification; the toxicity of connection has affected everyone. The emphasis on a “marketplace of ideas” where somebody has better ideas or is more right misses the point. Life is not a competition where you win if you’re more right than everyone else. Even if it were, there is no prize for alienating people from the “right answer” by treating them as less than. Real growth in ideology and worldview is hard, and we should be encouraging each other to improve individually and as a whole to reach our highest potential.
Casad, B. J. (2019, October 9). Confirmation bias. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/science/confirmation-bias#ref334975.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Open-minded. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/open-minded.
Press, T. A. (2021, October 28). Florida is suing Biden over the vaccine mandate for Federal Contractors. NPR. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/10/28/1050131916/desantis-florida-vaccine-mandate-lawsuit.
University of Louiville. (n.d.). What is critical thinking? What is Critical Thinking? - University of Louisville Ideas To Action. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://louisville.edu/ideastoaction/about/criticalthinking/what.
University of Pennsylvania. (n.d.). Authentic happiness. Authentic Happiness. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/newsletters/authentichappinesscoaching/open-mindedness.