Many people today would likely agree that there is too much hatred, bigotry, and anger in the world. They would likely say that everyone needs to be more tolerant and open-minded.
I’d like to offer a different perspective on open-mindedness.
Before I begin though, I want to clarify one very important thing: I am not defending legitimate hatred and bigotry, nor will I say that people shouldn’t be curious about other cultures and ideas. However, I believe that there are some significant errors and misconceptions regarding what it means to be open-minded and that if left unchecked, the open mind risks producing three victims.
The First Victim - The Open Mind
From what I have observed in recent years, open-mindedness and tolerance are often treated more like ideologies, titles, or a destination, rather than a process or a choice. When this happens, the first victim of the open mind is the open mind itself. There is a failure, or dare I say, even an unwillingness to accept that other people do in fact think differently and have legitimate reasons for doing so. The inevitable result of this is that it creates – though perhaps inadvertently and unintentionally – an “us vs. them” mentality, which then produces the opposite effect of what is intended, to the point that you have to believe a certain way in order to be open-minded. This then can cause the so-called open mind to draw false conclusions about those who think differently from them.
Also worth noting is that being open-minded does NOT mean approving of everything that everyone says, does, and thinks. Accepting? In the sense that we should understand that someone thinks and acts in a certain way (within reason), yes. Approving? No. Example: I am an orthodox, faithful, and practicing Catholic. Let’s say I meet a liberal atheist. Despite our differences, we’re able to develop a friendship. We’re able to passionately, but clearly and calmly explain our beliefs to each other. However, he still tries to convince other people to be atheists and I still try to convince them to be Catholic, or even each other. Would we still be considered “open-minded”?
A Religious Standpoint
From a religious standpoint, yes, some people do get too caught up in the dogmas and doctrines of their faith to an extreme degree. However, believing the dogmas and doctrines of faith does not automatically turn someone into a narrow-minded hate machine. There are many faithful religious people who have experienced or want to experience other cultures. Even so, if a faithful religious person is to effectively evangelize other persons or cultures, they must understand and respect where they came from and what formed them. They have to be able to listen and respond. And what does this require? An open mind.
The Second Victim - Sanity and Reason
"Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." - GK Chesterson
The second victim of the open-mind ideology: The rational and logical mind, the ability to think analytically and critically about something. In January 1940, it was reported that political expert Walter Kotschnig charged students of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts to “…keep their minds open, but not so open that their brains fall out.” I said earlier on that being open-minded does not necessarily mean approving of every choice that every person will ever make. That’s relativism. Relativism is a self-contradicting belief because at its very foundation is a definitive statement which argues that nothing is definitive; “there are no absolutes” is itself an absolute and objective statement.
Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat. It is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? – Sir Thomas More, A Man For All Seasons
Relativism permits not only evil, but it permits chaos and insanity. Thinking or feeling a certain way about something does not give it truth, validity, or legitimacy. I think the most clear-cut example of this on which most of us today could likely agree is transgenderism, gender neutrality, and gender fluidity. Simply because a biological male thinks he is truly a female does not make him so. This modern rejection of the most basic, fundamental, and beautiful truths of human identity, male and female, has no objective basis in reality and no serious thought should be granted to it. However, because people are "open-minded" about it, something that was once self-evident is now a "social construct".
The Third Victim - Humility
There is, however, one final victim of the open-mind: Humility. Tying in with the first victim, the claim that your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) or your political ideology are the independent standard for everyone to be open-minded is itself the beginning of the very bigotry and intolerance that the open mind is meant to resist. An inflated sense of pride and ego of being open-minded can easily become self-righteous arrogance. Open-mindedness then becomes an arbitrary self-awarded prize.
And to what point and purpose? To make yourself feel better about the world around you? To make yourself feel better about you? To gain quick and easy acceptance in social or professional circles? To avoid being called a hater?
I get it. No one wants to be on the wrong side of anything, but frivolously throwing out presumptive labels relating to bigotry or hatred in the name of “open-mindedness” is a show of not only intolerance, but of intellectual insecurity and irresponsibility, as well as intellectual weakness and laziness. To avoid being called the aforementioned names, people who don’t understand their own positions either join the opposite movement or stay silent. These easy victories (if they can even be called so) are hardly worth celebrating.
I'm not saying that people shouldn't respect each other when they disagree or that they shouldn't be curious about new or different perspectives. However, I do believe that there is a right way to be open-minded, or rather that there are limits on what makes for an open mind.