Picture this, I’m driving our rented RV across northern British Columbia, Canada, when I spot a sign out the front of a church. It says “Don’t be so open-minded your brains fall out.”
I nearly lose control of the vehicle. “What the actual…?” I say to my husband. “How can anyone think that having an open mind is a bad thing?”
Of course, it makes sense. Religion relies on dogma. The church doesn’t want you to think too deeply about alternative explanations for our existence and what it means to live a good life. It wants you to have unwavering faith in God’s plan and follow their guidance without question.
While I am not religious (I consider myself spiritual but agnostic), I am not here to criticize organised religion. In fact, I think there are many positives that come from religion. My concern is only for our personal growth and the progress of humanity. For that, I think there is nothing more important than keeping an open mind.
Thinking is hard
I have been thinking a lot about thinking recently.
As it turns out, it’s very easy not to think. There are a couple of reasons for this. One of the most obvious is distraction. Though right now it’s the one I am less interested in.
The more interesting reason that thinking is hard is that our beliefs stop us before we even get a chance.
“Belief is where thinking ends.”Simon Sinek
Once we have a belief about something, we no longer go searching for an alternative solution or explanation. If we believe that “money is hard to come by” then we don’t even consider that there could be a different, more easeful way to approach earning it. If we believe that we are “bad with money” then we don’t search out solutions that work better for us than what we’re currently doing. Instead, our confirmation bias has us searching only for supporting evidence of our belief.
We stop thinking.
Opening the Door
Much of the world’s wisdom lies within each of us as individuals. Yet paradoxically, the more that we expose ourselves to external input, the richer our wisdom becomes.
Being open-minded isn’t a matter of simply allowing someone else’s opinion in and letting it take root without question. It is about allowing facts, ideas, art, science and opinion into our consciousness and then playing with it. We can stretch it, test it, shape it and try it on. With our imagination and creativity, we can turn all that input into a completely original thought or ground-breaking point of view.
Being open-minded therefore means that it’s important we don’t stop the flow of information before it gets a chance to even enter our conscious mind.
Beliefs that hold us back
So much of what holds us back is within our own minds, just under the surface – in our subconscious minds. Our brain is lazy. Conscious thought takes a lot of energy and thus our brain creates repeatable patterns that are stored in our subconscious brain. Beliefs are simply repeatable thought patterns.
Being open-minded and challenging these beliefs by digging deeper and asking questions is the only way to achieve personal growth and progress as a species.
Here are a few examples of beliefs that act as barriers to achieving our goals.
Some assumptions are more serious than others. Assuming that your partner has put out the rubbish, for example is much less detrimental than assuming you will have enough money for retirement.
In both situations, holding the assumption is the barrier to thinking further about the consequences. If you hold no assumption, you would need to ask further questions. “Is the bin on the curb?” or “What is my cost of living? When do I want to retire? And how long will I need to fund my lifestyle?” Your assumption has closed your mind off to further thinking or investigation.
Not all rules remain relevant or fair over time. There is no better example of this than the Norwegian Olympic team challenging the International Handball Federation’s uniform rule. The rule stated that female players were required to wear “bikini bottoms of no more than four inches in length with a close fit and cut on an upward angle towards the top of the leg.”
Today that seems to be an obvious devaluation of players’ contribution to the sport as nothing more than sexual entertainment. But evidently at some point in history we accepted that objectifying women was entirely acceptable. If we continue to blindly accept a rule and not question it, think it through and challenge it, then it becomes a very real barrier to progress.
Identity and personality
Science has yet to conclude how much of our personalities are fixed or changeable. Certainly, one’s tendency towards either introversion or extroversion seems to be a very fixed characteristic. However, there are many other parts of our personality or identity that we adhere to at our detriment.
Stating that you are “Just not a numbers person” is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you suspend any belief you hold about your personality, identity or ability with numbers, you may just consider enrolling in that physics class or even become enthusiastic about budgeting.
Identity extends as far as race, gender, age and profession. Imagine if we held no attachment to these labels either?
Some traditions can be very special and very meaningful. However, there may be some that don’t align with your values. Like rules, it’s easy to keep doing a tradition simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done”.
For a long time I celebrated Christmas with my family of origin, never questioning the excessive gift-giving or consumerism of it. Yet something just didn’t sit right with me. Continuing the tradition without questioning why we do it and what it’s significance is, caused me considerable unhappiness. We have since created our own way of celebrating that feels true to our family.
Not questioning tradition stops us from living a life that’s true to ourselves. Remember, just because society, your family or friends do something doesn’t mean it’s automatically right for you.
So often we resort to judgement about others without digging any deeper. We read a social media post and judge someone as stupid; or we see how someone dresses and judge them as low-class; maybe we ask a person’s job and judge them as less educated; and the list goes on. Judgement can be useful in certain situations (a courtroom for example) but usually, judgement means we miss out on the richness and nuance of a person. We don’t get to learn about their lives, personalities or their unique perspectives.
Everyone has something to offer and if we don’t dig deeper and enquire further, we’re doing ourselves a disservice as much as the person we’re judging.
Exploring Your Potential
Being able to put our preconceived notions to one side, to be open-minded by asking questions and thinking deeply is the only way to walk the path of personal growth and explore our true potential.
“The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who can’t read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”Alvin Toffler