On being “open-minded”

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“Having an open mind is as good as not having an opinion.”

A mild reiteration of Chesterton, thrown to me all too many times by coworkers itching to impose their political agenda or philosophical view on global ethics, capital punishment or some other topic of the sort. I sometimes laugh at the constant collisions between the grand ways they’d like things to be and the demented way they actually turn out.

True, a question can’t be answer definitively with 100% accuracy, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a reason not to try and address it.

But, there is such a thing as a good and bad argument outside of science and mathematics. One can speak better and worse to questions. However no one’s talking about trying to impose conclusions on anyone else about who is right or who is wrong. It’s about trying to make sound arguments, continue logically, and attempt to persuade others of your cause through reason. Rational, democratic discourse depends on people engaging with one another and trying to figure out ideas together. Not running away from discourse by shutting everything else down with retorts such as “you’re wrong in thinking that,” “it’s my opinion,” or “that’s stupid.”

But some of us find it easier to be realistic about social relations. In particular, about how difficult it is to change people’s minds and have an effect on their lives. We are therefore extremely reticent about telling people too frankly what we really think. We have a sense of how seldom it’s useful to get censorious with others because we want, above all, that things go well between people. Even if this means not being totally honest. So we’ll sit with someone of the opposite political persuasion and not try to convert them. We’ll hold our tongue at someone who seems to be announcing a wrong plan for reforming the country, educating a child or directing their personal life.

We should be aware of how different things can look through the eyes of others and search more for what people have in common than what separates them.

Drafted 2016.08.14 12:02AM
Posted 2016.11.28 12:45AM

Painting by W. L. Taylor, Dorothea finds Casaubon dead. For George Eliots’ Middlemarch (1872)

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