Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Definition of Open-Mindedness

Earlier today I was looking for a couch-surfing host when I noticed an interesting question on somebody's profile. Since everybody on Couch Surfing markets themselves as "open-minded", this man wanted to know what we meant by that. I thought it was an interesting question, so I took some time in responding to it. This was my response:

"Your profile asks what it means to be "open-minded." To me, open-mindedness is the ability to seriously consider opinions, perspectives, or world-views that are different from ones own, or even contradictory to ones own, without automatically categorizing that alternate view as wrong. The world is a complex place, in which reasonable, intelligent, well-informed and well-intentioned people can disagree. When that happens, there may not be an objectively correct answer. Unfortunately, many people are frightened by that uncertainty, and feel the need to explain the world by constructing simplified systems of thought that attempt to make sense of it all.

We all do this to some extent - forming opinions is natural and healthy. But open and closed mindedness is about how we react when something challenges our version of the truth. Some people feel threatened, not only by the affront to their personal pride but by the possibility that everything they think they know be cast into doubt. But open-minded people feel intrigued. Instead of asking "why is that wrong?", they ask "why does that person think as they do?". Open minded people don't allow their natural defensive mechanisms to inhibit productive discourse. In the face of complex and troubling questions, they have the ability to say "I don't know all the right answers, and that's okay." Beyond that ability, they have an eager willingness to explore how other people answer those questions, and why. And generally, after pursuing those answers, they gain an appreciation for the immense diversity of human thought, as well as an insight as to what things we have in common.

This appreciation is one of the reasons I love travelling and am intrigued by couchsurfing - not just to see the sights and learn the history (which I definitely want to do also!), but to meet the people that make this earth so cool.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness...Broad, wholesome, charitable views...cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth.” - Mark Twain"

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