Thursday, January 6, 2011

If you want to change, you must be open-minded

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

I was talking with a religious conservative, and when I suggested a number of problems with religious conservatism, this person stopped in mid-discussion to say, “Don’t go there.  I am very proud of my religion, and I don’t accept anyone attacking it.”  Mine was not an attack; rather, it was expressing some personal concerns I had, and the purpose was not to change the person but simply to make him aware of my concerns.  

Here was a person, as I quickly discovered, entirely satisfied, not eager to make any changes in either thought or behavior, and unwilling to hear ideas contrary to his set of beliefs that came from his parents and the parents of his parents.I have no problem with people who are secure in their beliefs, but I do have a problem with those who are unwilling to listen.  Also, I have a problem with people who are unwilling to explore and discover new ideas. 

The problem comes first from apathy and contentment, “I like the way I am, and I have no interest in or reason to change.”  The problem comes, second, from laziness.  “If I don’t want to change in any way, why should I listen to ideas contrary to my own?”   

Let’s consider a bigger problem than religious conservatism.  Let’s take an example, instead, of a weak self-concept.  The reason this can become a problem has to do with the relationship of self-concept and perception.  A weak self-concept weakens your flexibility.  For example, with stronger self-confidence, you will have a sturdy base of operations — more strength and confidence in your ability to anticipate, assess, and evaluate situations. 

Second, with more accurate perceptions you will increase your repertoire of available skills and behaviors; thus you will have more from which to select and, likely, more accuracy and precision in their application.  What it comes down to is your ability to face new situations.  What you need are more tools in your toolbox.  It comes down to the age-old aphorism that when all you have in the world is a hammer, every problem you encounter looks like a nail.  This is black-and-white thinking that eliminates all shades of gray from your base of operations.  A strong self-concept permits shades of gray 

What is important to know with respect to strengthening your self-concept is that it doesn’t take much change to influence your communication and life.  The starting point for change can be just as soon as you want it to be, and you will notice the results immediately.  But, it is also important to know that nothing at all will change if you are closed-minded, reluctant, and hesitant or full of fear, doubt, and concern. 

For many people, it isn’t necessarily fear, doubt, and concern, it is that you either think you know everything you need to know, or you think there is no need or room for improvement.  Another possible problem is that you know that a change in your self-concept may require other changes, new behaviors, actions you cannot anticipate, and an unknown set of problems that you are just not ready or willing to take on. 

All of these are legitimate concerns; however, the fact is some change is going to occur whether you like it or not.  To be open to change is more likely to prepare you for anything that might happen — the anticipated and unanticipated alike.  What this requires is open-mindedness. 

“The trait of open-mindedness is best understood as a disposition, rather than an occurrent state of mind. It's not about what beliefs you actually have, but how open you are to revising them in appropriate circumstances. It requires the true humility of self-acknowledged fallibility. It requires that our minds be open to new evidence. But this is something very different from suggesting that we should be equally accepting of nonsense as we are of sense. That's not open-mindedness; it's gullibility, or perhaps stupidity,” writes the author of the blog at Philosophy, et cetera.

Open-mindedness requires that you be open to new findings and understandings, and you must be open to options, alternatives, and possible new choices.  It can be a great journey, but without a commitment from you, there’s likely to be no journey at all — just words on a page or ideas that travel in one ear and out the other — if, indeed, they get that far. 

“Can we will ourselves to change?” Joann Ellison Rodgers asks, then answers her own question in her article “Altered Ego: The New View of Personality Change.”  “Yes,” says Rodgers, “especially if we think we can. . . . The power of belief is the key.” 

But it goes much further than the power of belief alone.  That, of course, is a starting point, and it is a good starting point.  With the power of belief operating at full tilt, it is more likely that you will be able to embrace the ideas of others.  This boils down to one absolute essential: respect. 

In practical terms what you can do when others speak is to avoid looking for points to disagree with.  Rather, take a completely different tact: look for ideas to increase your wisdom.  Realize that everyone has something to offer you.  It comes back to the example of the religious conservative with which I opened this essay.  I love Chuck Gallozzi’s quotation, “The open-minded see the truth in different things, but the narrow-minded see only the differences,” found at his website in an essay, “Being Open-Minded.  It is as Gallozzi expresses it, “We need our differences.  For they provide us with more options and possibilities, making us stronger and wiser.” 

The second thing you can do is abandon your need to be right.  By doing so, according to Gallozzi, you turn power over to others and “grant them the right to be themselves.”  It is a matter of acting generously and to quote Gallozzi once again, “One can hardly offer anyone a greater gift.” 

These two changes, respect for others and abandoning your need to be right, are easier said than done because your current behavior is based on entrenched habits.  If you can believe that you can change, the results of open mindedness — stronger self-concept, more well-rounded personality, acceptance and respect by others — are worth any effort you devote to change. 


At the website, Affirmations For Positive Thinking/Creating Power (How you can create the life you want), there are a number of motivational essays that are interesting and fun to read.  Please note, this is a sales website; however, that does not deny the potential value of the essays. 

Here is an excellent essay, “Is it good to be open-minded?” by William Hare of
Mount St. Vincent University that includes 42 footnotes.  Yes, it is a bit long, but it is comprehensive, interesting, and worth a read. 


Copyright January, 2011, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.

1 comment:

  1. I stopped reading this essay at the first phrase because I am open-minded enough to know that if I add any more my brain will leak out.


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