On Open-Mindedness

November 21, 2008 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: philosophy, Zen.

On Open-MindednessA friend’s facebook pages have been awash with commentary recently, always after his provocatively-titled notes that have often sparked controversy and set pulses racing. Whilst I enjoy a good debate about matters that I feel need factual correction or an injection of balance, I find the discussions often tend, at one point or another, toward the issue of opinion and whether or not those involved are being open-minded or not.

I have personally been accused of not being open-minded myself and I have also levelled the charge against others and analysis of the criticism of whether open-mindedness is being exercised or not is very interesting.

A recent debate focused on some flimsy insinuation that Iran was only testing new medium-range rockets because there was a new and weak President-elect in the Whitehouse. Another charge was levelled at Europe in that it didn’t care about Israel. I objected to the rhetoric and the sweeping statement only to be informed that although that’s what was said/written it was not what was meant and then we got into a debate about anti-Semitism in France & Germany. Whilst I agreed that, of course, such abhorrent prejudices exist, I again objected to the sweeping demonisation of whole countries and lazy attacks on individuals.

I was quite strong in my correction of the author, pointing out his generalisations, quoting the number one rule of journalism (check your facts) and stating the old military tenet;

put brain into gear before engaging mouth

In a debate over gutter journalism, I deem my points to be very fair, but I was surprised at the barrage of abuse that was then returned, not by the author, but by the friends he summoned to join in the debate. From this point of their entry into the discourse, I had then suddenly become narrow-minded.

Checking my comments I tried to fathom where I might have failed to be open-minded. There were certainly some points where I could be considered so, but only if my judge and jury were to fall into the trap of assumption of the worst. The most fascinating point was that my accusers happened to be extremely religious and were not afraid to show it.

So who is open-minded? Is it those people so into religion who believe in their one greater being, those who have faith in something that is not tangible, the people who are not restricted by the simplicity of proof or fact? Or are the open-minded ones the people who accept the possibility that there may or may not be a god? Is it those who are not constrained to one doctrine, or at least one of the three Abrahamic religious paths? Is dogma not just confined to the full-on believers but also a flaw of the utter disbelievers too?

Distilling these divergent viewpoints you get the two extremes: there is a god and there is no god. In the middle is the opinion that there may or may not be a god. Personally, I find the third way, the middle way as being the most open-minded one. Monotheism and atheism are restrictive whilst agnosticism allows both possibilities to exist. Strong religious conviction eliminates the possibility that god does not exist whilst total godlessness prevents the likelihood that he/she/it may be real.

I admit am being slightly polarised here to illustrate my point because there are certainly monotheists and atheists who are indeed open-minded to a degree, but I’m looking at the ability to be truly, fully open-minded; isn’t that the spirit of it all? Plus I’m not being unfair when I have experienced first-hand the polarised views anyway, particularly from the “religious right” over the pond.

I’m very much into the concept of degree being factored into things; we know that some people seem to see the world in black & white. Others see shades of grey. What’s your degree, what’s your mix of black & white? Are you 99/1 or 50/50? And isn’t black/white/grey the antithesis of open-mindedness? Surely the world view is in many colours, shapes too, dimensions and even time are factors in our perceptions.

So am I being open-minded enough in my observations of open-mindedness or am I missing a trick?

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