On Open-Mindedness

Throughout my life, I’ve encountered people who seem to think I’m opinionated. When I start a discussion on a topic (particularly about the bigger questions), they often throw up a few trite opinions. And oftentimes I shoot them down.

“Oh, whatever,” they might say, “it’s no use arguing with you; you’re so sure about your ideas.”

No, I’m not.

The fact of the matter is that I think about these things all the time (that’s why I’m having a discussion about them). I think about them in bed, on the bus to work, on the bus on the way back from work, and when I’m reading books written by other people who think about them. YOU (in the case of most people) have spent a grand total of a few hours thinking about this topic during your entire life, and yet you want me to concede that you have some good points, and that you might be right. But the opinions you formed in the back of your mind are probably ones that I’ve already thought about a million times over, and that’s why I have ready-made formulas for shooting them down. It isn’t that I’m opinionated, that I disrespect you, or that I have some kind of disdain for your intellect. It’s just that you cannot pull vaguely formed ideas out of your back pocket and expect them to carry an enormous weight with me, because if I am arguing with you (or even having some kind of a forceful exchange on the subject), I have probably thought about it for hundreds of hours, read numerous books and articles about it, and talked to other people about it as well. I will likely have heard your vaguely-formed idea before.

I sometimes do try to sustain an argument about subjects upon which I am ignorant, in order to appear knowledgeable, or what not, but in most cases I concede the boundaries of my knowledge and confess ignorance.

You can change my mind about anything, if you’ll just give me a reason to change it. Do I have unreasonable standards for what is reasonable? You can convince me of that too. I’m listening.

Lately I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things. Occasionally, when I change my mind, people will point out that I used to have arguments with them about that topic from the other side. Does this prove that I was wrong to argue in the past? Not exactly. I now happen to think that your position is correct… but at the time, your arguments were poor. I think there are plenty of good arguments for positions that are incorrect, and plenty of bad arguments for positions that are correct.

In any case, if you want to convince me of your worldview, now is probably the best time to make a run at it.

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7 Responses to “On Open-Mindedness”

  1. I also find it frustrating when I reconsider something I said during a discussion and then am accused of being flaky for changing my mind–as if absorbing new information or viewpoints is a violation of dialogue.

    Why is now a better time for having a go at your worldview than another? Or are you speaking about it in a general sense, that as you age you will necessarily gain more knowledge and have considered more arguments?

    Check your Gmail by the way 😉

  2. You expressed so well where I am in this journey. I’ve mulled over and thought about and read about many different topics coming to no particular conclusion. I’m a blank slate, so to speak. So now would be the best time at making a run at a worldview with me as well. I’ve also been accused of being closed minded because people present ideas and if I question those ideas it means I’m not considering them. No, it means I’m trying to understand them or trying to figure out if there is actually any merit to them.

  3. There’s gotta be a stereotype in here somewhere. Maybe something to do with being 2x something and having enough time and resources to ponder things.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that. To the contrary; good to know other people are experiencing this.

  4. I’ve really enjoyed reading Rene Girard as an experience in new thinking. chances are though, you’ve already been there and done that 😉

  5. “I now happen to think that your position is correct… but at the time, your arguments were poor.”

    Sometimes, it just takes time for an argument to mine the walls of one’s keep. As in my case, it took around three years, once I really started looking, for this to happen to me. At first I thought other peoples’ arguments were poor; later, when I looked at them without my theologically tinted glasses, they appeared just fine. But that’s dogmatism for you–fucks with everything when the first declared variable is “God did it,” and each one after it says, “See first variable.”

  6. – It’s a good time to have a run at my worldview because I have nothing more to lose by changing my mind about anything at the moment.

    – Actually I hadn’t heard of Rene Girard until you posted this. I’m not as likely to be found reading that kind of stuff, because I am skeptical of that kind of anthropological meta-analysis. It seems too much like storytelling, and often seems to lack implications. A big “So What?” issues forth from my guts. Nonetheless, I will devote a bit of time to him, because you mentioned him.

    – I find it interesting that most Christian literature is devoted to answering 5 or 6 key questions. Every time I saw them, I used to think “Oh! It’s just those questions. Phew. Nothing new.” It never occurred to me that, if everyone’s still posing those questions, they might be legitimate questions (and that the Christian answers might be bad–if you just mull them over with the lights out, one night).

    However, I still think there are a pile of terrible atheist/anti-Christian argument out there. I have had a lot of them used on me in the past, and I have not much changed my position on them. If we could even (and this is a small request, in my view) just get to the point where all the Christians accept natural history, and all the atheists accept Jesus’ existence, I would feel less sick whenever I see them arguing.

  7. – This is going to look like I’m a girard fanboy: but I’ve only heard of the guy in the past 12 months or so, so I’m still feeling my way through introductory material….i’m with you on treating girard’s meta-narrative (if one can call it that) with some caution. however, i think some of girard’s basic groundwork has a lot of merit, especially those elements that are supported by science (neurology and the mirror neuron). What I like about girard is:
    1. he takes “natural history” seriously
    2. he acknowledges mythical elements within the biblical texts – and in fact is somewhat reliant on them being mythological
    3. his theories were developed extra-biblically (he didn’t start with the Christian writings as his base assumption)
    4. the implications are strongly non-violent and are a challenge to the substitutionary-atonement/ sacrificial model that is so popular with evangelicalism

    there is a useful youtube series – just search “René Girard / Charles Darwin” on google – he’s got a cool accent too 😉

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