The rigidness of an open mind

Narrow-mindedness can come from those who think they are anything but.

by Andrew Johnson

In an environment with a nonstop and frenzied news cycle, our assessment of episodes like Occupy Wall Street can reach a dangerous stage in that it can become too fixed. The rolling pin of information flattens our minds to think about something in one way or the other. After a certain point, we defer to a default opinion or attitude toward the subject matter. Think about the Middle East, sagging economy or Tea Party: WeâÄôve all settled on judgments that were formed a while ago and havenâÄôt budged much since. Once you start looking for affirmation rather than information, how open are you to new ideas?

Now this isnâÄôt going to be a standard âÄúDonâÄôt look to the media for what to think!âÄù college newspaper column. Instead, IâÄôm suggesting to not look only to yourself for what to think.

We students sometimes automatically deem ourselves as open-minded simply by virtue of being on a college campus. WeâÄôre not just enrolling in courses while weâÄôre here, but getting a front row seat closest to the dry-erase board of enlightenment. Somewhere in between fulfilling foreign language requirements, reading designated materials and having a favorite ethnic restaurant in town, we become as worldly and wise as the likes of Averroes, Llull and Pascal. Heck, the references in that last sentence should prove so, shouldnâÄôt it?

Over time, we grow accustomed to our environment, perceiving it as âÄî dare I say âÄî superior. After all, it is called âÄúhigherâÄù education. It doesnâÄôt mean we totally dismiss considerations different than our own, but we tend to grant ourselves intellectual authority over anything said against them since we can only comprehend an issue from our already-established frame of reference. Like the scar from those stitches you got in elementary school, youâÄôve had these opinions long enough where youâÄôve become fond of them, and itâÄôs hard to imagine life without them.

This isnâÄôt claiming that there is one universal viewpoint shared among our campus community, or any community for that matter. Each individual carries his or her own views and values as a result of personal experiences. ItâÄôs when we rely too much on that established view that we become unbending in relating to others.

For example, have you guffawed at a group tabling in Coffman Union? âÄúThey think that?!âÄù you may ask yourself as you hurriedly glance at the title of their poster, maybe accepting a pamphlet âÄî but only if itâÄôs crammed into your hand âÄî before promptly tossing it out. Have you ever talked to them, though, or have you decided in advance that itâÄôs just not worth your time? What about the classmate, writer, ideology, publication, cause, news channel, country or culture youâÄôve already determined you know enough about to forever overlook?

ItâÄôs hard to keep driving down the Open-Minded Highway if youâÄôve already taken the Smug Street exit to I-Know-What-I-Need-To-Know-ville. This doesnâÄôt mean you have to mechanically agree with everyone, just donâÄôt be so quick to do so with yourself either. Find out why you donâÄôt embrace that line of reasoning versus your own, and not just from the perspective you already have. What makes studying abroad so enriching, for example, is that you put yourself in a setting unlike the one youâÄôre used to. That methodology shouldnâÄôt just be geographical, though; you can bring it back stateside and not leave it overseas.

Where this journey leaves us depends on how free-thinking and independent you want to be. One set of directions will lead you to self-validation. The other may get you there too, but it could require some inquiry, modesty and tolerance. Hope to see you on the road.


Andrew Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].