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Open Your Mind to New Perspectives
Why open-mindedness is hard; how to free an established mind
Zeitgeists shift. 🌍 For instance, the world was once “flat”. Did you know that smoking was once recommended by doctors? Moreover, 150 years ago, slavery was the norm in the US, but today it would be hard to imagine such cruelty was legal, right?
“New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.” — John Locke
Likewise, it would be hard for people from before to imagine “normal” things back then like slavery would be gone.
With that realization, let’s imagine 150 years later — let’s just try — what is so normal today would be critically judged by others in the future? It is not those things that matter here, but whether you would be open enough to accept novel ideas — would you be able to handle the shocking shift of reality? Would you be able to embrace dramatic changes to what we’ve always believed?
“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer
Back to today’s topic, Open Your Mind, I would like to share a few ways how we can be more open, more accepting of change, in the hopes that diversity is welcomed and good new ideas are less suppressed, while human beings with different beliefs can live in harmony despite our differences.
What Causes a Closed Mind
I will first list 3 causes from technological to human characteristics that make you and me more close-minded. In a later section, I will share 3 suggestions to them with references from a number of books and thinkers. Let’s begin!
1. Recommendation Algorithms on Social Media
First, social media is said to be a significant cause of polarization in our society, as technology optimizes our web and app experiences with cookies to track our interests, and reflecting them back to us in the content we see. As an IT professional in the industry, I’ve witnessed the prevalence and power of the recommendation algorithms myself.
Prior to the Internet era, people consume news from the same TV channels and newspapers. Nowadays, we do so via a personalized feed unique to each of us. Polarizing points of view are then developed as we rarely get any exposure to contradictory opinions. Worse, some sources are not only biased but even fabricated. Homogeneity has made us more closed-minded.
“In an increasingly polarized world, being able to step outside your comfort zone and consider other perspectives and ideas is important.” — Kendra Cherry
As human beings, we are cultural by nature. No matter where you and I are born and raised, the social norms, ideas and customs of our community, as part of our culture, will inevitably affect the way we think and act throughout our lives.
“Cultural irrationality is deeply entrenched in the lives of all of us, and because of culturally imposed blinders, our view of the world does not normally transcend the limits imposed by our culture. We are in effect stuck with the program culture imposes.” — Edward T. Hall
According to Beyond Culture by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, we start to learn from our environment from the moment we are born, suiting the cultural context around us. After a certain amount of time, things we have learned develop into ingrained habits and beliefs. Finally, they become almost automatic as if they are embedded in us. By adulthood, they have become unconscious behaviors which are internalized within our established minds.
For example, we might learn that beautiful and skinny people are those who experience a happy life. Although standards like beauty vary everywhere, what is universal among all human beings is that we put various labels like these on the people we encounter. This is “a natural tendency,” says psychologist Deborah Tannen.
“We must see the world in patterns in order to make sense of it; we wouldn’t be able to deal with the daily onslaught of people and objects if we couldn’t predict a lot about them and feel that we know who and what they are.” — Deborah Tannen
Unfortunately, our established minds may judgmentally punish ourselves and others for not fulfilling the various ‘shoulds’, ignoring anything new that doesn’t align instead of embracing change, and over time, we lose our ability to behave in accordance with our natural human tendencies — the unselfconscious toddler deep within each and every one of us.
3. Unconscious Biases
Research has shown that about half of our time is spent on autopilot. This is beneficial in many ways. Unconscious cognitive mechanisms like the 50 ones recently tweeted by Elon Musk enable us to smoothly navigate the world after birth. However, this comes with some slightly negative side effects. Naturally, unconscious forces affect our memories, perceptions and judgments.
Regardless of how open-minded you consider yourself to be, you most likely have biases formed during your upbringing and life as everybody else. For example, we are hardwired to disregard information which doesn’t fit our preconceived worldview, and instead seek information that does due to confirmation bias.
Another example is negativity bias. Many media outlets puts a negative spin on the news to catch attention. They know that we have a tendency towards negativity— we focus more on a negative news story than a positive one. The explanation for this is our survival instinct, which dates back to ancient times where our ancestors had to keep staying alerted to bad things in order to survive. That’s why we pay more attention when a friend talks about an experience of confronting a shark to avoid a similar accident. Many media exploit our natural human attention for bad news by disproportionately focusing more on the negative than the positive side of things. Being led to thinking misery is everywhere, it’s no wonder why we feel unhappy and anxious reading the news.
How to Free an Established Mind
Next comes 3 suggestions to the problems.
1. Be Radically Open-minded and See Things in the Higher Level
“To be effective you must not let your need to be right to be more important than your need to find out what’s true.” — Ray Dalio
First, it is natural to feel pressured to defend what we think is right, but that prevents us from seeking an accurate understanding of reality, or truth, which Ray Dalio — billionaire investor, entrepreneur and the author of Principles — says is the essential foundation for producing good outcomes.
Therefore, Ray Dalio recommends being radically open-minded, which requires us to replace our attachment to always being right with the joy of learning what’s true. By remaining radically open to new information and developing an accurate picture of the world, we won’t miss important perspectives which would’ve otherwise prevented us from tapping into our fullest potentials, even if what we end up believing tomorrow isn’t what we believe today.
“Every time you confront something painful, you are at a potentially important juncture in your life — you have the opportunity to choose healthy and painful truth or unhealthy but comfortable delusion.” — Ray Dalio
Ray Dalio also suggests we should see things from the higher level, looking down at yourself and others as part of a system, looking down on the full array of viewpoints not in own possessive way but as an objective observer in order to assess them in an idea-meritocratic way, where thoughts are openly expressed for great ideas to emerge.
Don’t be afraid of the pain caused. It’s this level of open-mindedness that got the company founded by Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associate, to be the world’s largest hedge fund and the fifth most important private company in the US according to Fortune Magazine.
“When there is pain, the animal instinct is ‘fight or flight’ — reflect instead. When you can calm yourself down, thinking about the dilemma that is causing you pain will bring you to a higher level and enlighten you, leading to progress.” — Ray Dalio
2. Force Ourselves to Justify Our Strong Opinions
Due to one of the biases, Dunning-Kruger Effect, being less skillful at a certain task can make us less likely to recognize we are incompetent.
According to the book Moral Tribes by neuroscientist Joshua Greene, most controversial real-world moral problems are very complicated. Despite this, we tend to maintain strong opinions on these topics even when we don’t grasp the fundamentals.
To mitigate this natural tendency, try this tip — force ourselves to justify why we disagree, and, if we struggle, accept our ignorance on the matter, so that we can be more receptive to others’ views.
“In an ideal world, we’d all transform ourselves into experts and make judgements based on extensive knowledge. Given that this will never happen, our next best option is to emulate the wisdom of Socrates: We become wiser when we acknowledge our ignorance.” — Joshua Greene
It is not shameful but admirable to confront our ignorance as no human being is perfect or good in all areas after all.
3. Reframe Our Expression
Being radically open-minded or more receptive doesn’t mean we should blindly accept any new information without healthy skepticism. As thinking in the higher level does help, here comes the third suggestion which elaborates further on that — express our opinions using our own language.
In the book Making Sense, author Sam Harris had a conversation with historian Timothy Snyder. The book states that human beings aren’t truly free if we aren’t able to discuss the issues of the day in our own words. All too often, we repeat the framing mechanisms, words and sound bites on television.
“One test of whether you are a free person is whether you can change your mind.” — Timothy Snyder
To better communicate with others, we have to contemplate and reframe our concerns in an intensely personal manner. Doing so will help us show people different ways to view issues, and our conversations will feel more authentic as well.
In summary, we discussed the need to be more aware of recommendations algorithms of social media, our upbringing, unconscious biases, and 3 suggestions:
Be radically open-minded and see things in the higher level.
Force ourselves to justify our strong opinions.
Reframe our expression.
Being open-minded is admirable and helpful amid the recent tensions with the world, but uneasy because it is against human nature as you have seen. By being aware of what limits us like what was discussed and taking steps in improving our habits to achieve what was suggested, little by little, we may be able to reconnect to the non-judgmental toddler in all of us.
One More Thing
“Oh, being open-minded is too hard,” says our resisting inner feeling brains.
I can emphasize, my friend. So, here’s a little more on that.
“Recognize that many people cannot see things from the higher level… Values and abilities are unlikely to change much.” — Ray Dalio
As open-minded as we can try to be, due to the explained facts that human beings are wired differently from birth and upbringing where different fundamental perspectives are shaped, and that we are limited by our unconscious biases, it is inevitable for us to have formed different core beliefs and behaviors that are difficult, if not impossible, to change.
“Personality cannot be changed much, if at all.” — Mark Manson
For example (a light-hearted dialogue to cheer you up 😊), some prefer to see one another in a positive light:
“I always prefer to believe the best of everybody; it saves so much trouble.”
Some prefer the opposite:
“I prefer to believe the worst. It saves useless expenditure of sympathy.”
And some prefer somewhere around the middle, etc.
It is not entirely anyone’s fault, although we are still responsible for our own actions.
If we are equipped with clarity, we may be able to emphasize and realize not everyone would be capable of changing what is already embedded deeply in them without their control. To live harmoniously with one another, it may be wiser for us human beings to focus on what common values we share and respectfully agree to disagree on the rest.
“It’s easy to find reasons for division between people. Finding common ground is harder, but a step towards happiness.” — Unknown
Once we’ve solidified our common ground, who knows? Maybe we would be more open-minded to each other’s opinions.
If there had to be a one-line takeaway from this post, learn from the nature — be the ocean.
“Be like the calm ocean, which is inclusive of all rivers and seas, and that’s why it becomes the ocean.” — Unknown
Next Reading Suggestion — Communicate with Empathy
The post Communicate with Empathy originally published on Curious was a research on empathy I did amid the tensions in the US in early 2021. This may help because being open-minded involves being empathetic.
According to one of the biases, in-group favoritism, we have a tendency to favor people who are in our in-group as opposed to an out-group. The aforementioned book Moral Tribes also suggests that human’s ability to cooperate between groups still leaves much room for improvement — evolution has provided us with the skills to cooperate within groups, but not between groups. The history of conflict is a reminder of that. Therefore, understanding how to communicate with empathy is crucial in resolving conflicts as well as being open to others’ views.
By the way, emphasizing consumes our emotional resources. Therefore, care for yourself by examining your emotional capacity first. Mindfulness exercises like the RAIN method (recognize, accept, investigate, nurture) in the post may help.
May the beginner’s mind be with you. ❤️
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