Most often, when people say they have an open mind, it’s kind of meaningless. Having an open mind is a good thing. It means they’re not the one with the problem. People with closed minds have the problem.
Except that it’s easy to have an open mind towards anything agreeable.
It doesn’t take much courage to stand up for an idea that’s popular, or to speak about something generally. Platitudes and cliches are great for this. Everyone deserves respect. Be kind. Try to see different perspectives.
The problem is that it’s all meaningless. I grew up being told to have an open mind – as long as it was open to things that had been pre-approved. It’s funny how everyone else’s perspective matters more than the reasons for your own.
This gets brought up the most when talking about faith.
The insinuation that people without faith have closed minds (and vice-versa) isn’t always true. Like everyone else, a mind can be open to some ideas but closed to others. People don’t have to re-litigate the obvious. For example, my mind is closed on the sun being bright. It’s established. I don’t have to go blind testing it out.
The same thing applies to other stuff. I have my reasons for not believing that the Christian deity is real. On most points, the matter’s settled for me. This means my mind is closed to things like arguments for a deity’s existence, or biblical quotes, or stories of miraculous signs. Yeah, people might think they’re real. Good for them. After miracle number five hundred, I’m tired of seeing the same excuses. Should I have to entertain them again and again?
It comes back to the assumption that an open mind is a good thing. I feel the urge to put up with thoughts soaked in religious spirits because I’m afraid of being told my mind is closed. Nobody cares that I’m being sold something fraudulent. If I say it’s fraud, I’m the bad person for sticking up for myself.
This is an issue of maintaining one’s integrity.
Growing up the way I did, yeah, it’s a hot-button issue for me. Faith worked really hard to break me as a person. I never existed as myself. It was always what I can do for everyone else. My identity does not matter. My needs are irrelevant to my existence. If I ignore myself long enough, I might just fade away.
When I get told to keep an open mind about faith beliefs, I get brought back to that fading version of myself. I forget that people are trying to resell the same thing over and over again. I forget that I made a good decision for my own health and well-being. Being told to have an open mind is a way to get around a person’s self-esteem. It’s gaslight poison in a chocolate-covered shell.
In reality, if I have to beg someone to keep an open mind, I’m asking to have it close on something else. Not many people complain if it closes on something nasty. I can’t think of anyone who’d want me to have an open mind regarding racism or slavery.
And I get why others don’t want to keep an open mind about lack of faith. For many people, they’ve made important decisions for themselves. My thinking isn’t going to change their mind. I don’t think it has to.
So what is important about having an open mind?
It’s about giving people a fair shake. It’s not about rolling out the welcome mat and letting them trample all over me. Open minds are great when I’m considering something new. Such a thing would tell me if I’m wrong.
Just as important: being true to myself. Having an open mind is pointless when it comes to old ideas that have already been evaluated. Unless there’s a new relevant fact, there’s no point in rehashing the picture of Jesus on my morning toast. Or whether certain fantastical creatures made it onto Noah’s Ark…