As my wife and I have aged, we have consistently observed that as people grow older they either become more open or more closed, more flexible or more rigid, looser or tighter, broader or narrower. Simply put, people continue to learn, grow, and cultivate new experiences or they become stuck or even regress.
We have also observed that our culture generally associates broad thinking and open-mindedness with liberalism and narrow thinking and narrow-mindedness with conservativism. But, is that always true? Can you be both open minded and conservative?
As with most ways of thinking, doing, and being, Jesus is our best example. It can be argued that Jesus was considered both conservative and liberal by his day’s standards…..upholding old traditions and ignoring, replacing, or reframing others. Yet, Jesus clearly introduced a new way of thinking that broadened, expanded, and eventually threatened Hebrew understanding of:
- The Kingdom of God
- The Messiah
- Violence, judgement
- The role of religion and government
- Who is our neighbor
- The Law
In fact, Jesus’ new way of thinking so threatened the political and religious leaders of the day that they put him to death.
Characteristics of Open Minded People
From my own observations and experience I find that open minded people generally tend to:
- Not be quick to judge
- See more alternatives, possibilities, opportunities, and solutions
- Not see things just as black and white, but also with shades of gray
- Be comfortable with ambiguity and mystery
- See third alternatives
- Listen more
- Be entrepreneurial
- Be creative
- Believe in Both/And more than Either/Or
- Favor Win/Win over Win/Lose alternatives
- Find truth on both sides of an issue
- Take risks
- Be continual learners
- Be more curious and questioning
- Be widely read
- Be more progressive
- Be less opinionated
- Think critically
- Challenge the status quo
- Have a variety of experiences
- Handle change easier
- Be more receptive to new ideas
- Be open to the possibility they are wrong
- Speak less in absolutes
- Be open to having their ideas challenged
- Be patrons of the arts
Not surprisingly, with our dramatically polarized society I find myself increasingly drawn to people who are open-minded. But what exactly does that really mean?
What Does It Mean to Be Open Minded?
There are several different aspects to open-mindedness to consider:
- In everyday use, the term open-minded is often used as a synonym for being non-prejudiced or tolerant.
- From a beliefs and values standpoint, open-mindedness can also involve asking questions and being active about searching for information that challenges your beliefs.
- From a psychological perspective, the term is used to describe how willing people are to consider other perspectives or to try out new experiences.
Open-mindedness may very well be the single most important characteristic we have for bettering our ability to connect with others. To be open-minded means to remove your personal biases and prejudices from any situation and completely immerse yourself in another’s experience.
At its essence, open-mindedness is a characteristic that involves being receptive to a wide variety of ideas, arguments, and information. It is a necessary ability in order to think critically and rationally. If you are not open to other ideas and perspectives, it is difficult to see all of the factors that contribute to problems or come up with effective solutions.
In a world where polarization and boorish behavior is celebrated, being able to step outside your comfort zone and consider other perspectives and ideas is increasingly important…..and threatening. Because being open to new ideas and experiences can sometimes lead to confusion and dissonance when we learn new things that conflict with existing beliefs. However, being able to change and revise outdated or incorrect beliefs is an important part of personal growth.
Even if you consider yourself a fairly open-minded person, there are probably certain topics on which you take a much harder stance. Things that you are passionate about, biblical, or social issues, for example. Having convictions can be a great thing, but strong belief does not negate an open-mind. Being open-minded means having the ability to consider other perspectives and trying to be empathetic to other people, even when you disagree with them. Open-mindedness takes time, energy, and patience.
In our next article we will take a look at how we can learn to be more open-minded.
Posted on December 10, 2019