“Open-mindedness,” I would argue, is a term that has become synonymous with people who identify as politically liberal. Contrary to some of the feedback I sometimes receive from the audience on this site, and indeed some of the spaces and environments I find myself in, I am not politically liberal. Some might even argue that some of my views are on the conservative side of things. However, I have never obliged others in explicitly terming my political views perhaps other than in giving contradictory terms such as “radically moderate” or in claiming to be a “freethinker,” or something of that sort. Still, I enjoy politics or at least political theory – it was my second major in college. But I do not enjoy the state of politics and in particular, political dialogue or rather a lack thereof, in this country.
I am always up for a debate – ask anyone who knows me. But I have learned over time that debate is an art and a science, and not one that many people have particularly learned well. Ad hominem attacks, exception-to-the-rule arguments, refusing to truly listen to what the other person is saying, and most importantly these days I think, the policing of other people’s viewpoints with the reasoning that the person or people in debate who disagree with you, are not “open minded.” And it’s not just in debate this occurs but in general conversation in which a person may express their like or dislike for something; particular tastes and viewpoints are perceived as open-minded while other viewpoints are not.
And what often grants these particular “open-minded” tastes of which mostly include things that are in vogue, is that there are numerous powerful people in positions to support and side with an idea. Now I do not support the notion that all views, simply because they are somebody’s views, are of equal value in conversation. Not because of any elitist positions I may take due to education or class, which are admittedly always present. But rather because some people have experience or particular forms of knowledge, from the many ways in which knowledge is obtained, that is objectively greater than others. For example, being in conversation with an astrophysicist, it may be best for me to listen to his views on the physical world and how quantum mechanics laws shape it, than to challenge his knowledge based on the idea that “I have basic knowledge too.” Granted everything is worth challenging. But like Mark Twain, I often think it’s best to know the accepted facts before attempting to challenge them.
And I do challenge what people have to say and I absolutely prefer to be in (respectful) conversation with people who know how to argue, and who hold different views from me. I firmly believe that it is the best way to learn because you do not learn as much when you only converse with people who already believe in the same things you do. But I think the art of conversation and the relationships we build during them become poorer when we feel the need to agree with people, lest we be told that we are not “open-minded.” Open-mindedness has become a slippery slope ideology that is used to above all, police argument.
That said, I do not entertain every argument as a matter of personal sanity, and a belief that there are objectively bad arguments, and objectively poor morals. And at the sight of these, I have learned to leave people to their own devices; some people are best left to their own devices. But I am also quite frustrated at the speed at which people will call an argument that they disagree with, one that is not of the “open-minded” stance. And I have found that it is often politically liberal people who are fond of calling their politically conservative counterparts this term. As a bystander to both camps, I still find it frustrating.
Ultimately, I think open-mindedness means that if I choose to engage in argument with you, I am thoroughly open to what you have to say. But it does not mean at any point in conversation I, or anyone else, has to adopt your views or be convinced by you. And those who are fond of labeling people as not closed-minded simply because they have different views, need to take a hard look in the mirror and re-think the term. If one doesn’t care for being open-minded, then this argument and conversation is pointless anyway. But if one does care, the start of being able to authentically claim that label, is having the courage and prudence to recognize that being open-minded doesn’t mean the people you choose to be in spaces with, have to agree with you. It’s a tough stance to take and a tough way to live. But anything that is worthwhile, always is.