Monday, September 19, 2005

A Ponder-ance

Perhaps you, my ever so patient reader, consider yourself an open minded person. The sort of person, who, by definition, allows others to express their opinions without censoring them or telling them they are blatantly wrong. You might listen to be sympathetic, or to gain some insight into someone else's viewpoints or so that you can formulate arguments during some later quiet hour so that you can discuss the person's views in more depth next time. Whatever the reason, you're not a bigot, and you know it.

I have known many people of differing opinions on life in general and there is one characteristic that each seems to carry. They all think that they are tolerant toward the views of others.

To illustrate this point, I will speak in terms of political views, because that's what I am good at!

No matter what your political views, I am sure you have heard someone of opposite opinions explain how they listen to everyone with an open mind even if they differ from them. Or maybe you haven't, but you have talked about this yourself. Why do people think that those of your persuasion are so bigoted? You can explain in detail why you have a far more open mind than those opposed to you, and you can describe the sort of people who really bother you. The ones who think they're always right and refuse to listen to anyone with a differing opinion. Maybe you've never met these people, but dammit you know they're out there. You are a lib or a con, or a mod. No matter what you are, you know that your type is the type that listens to others and values their differing opinion and the other types are incapable of doing that.

I have heard Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, all talk like this. We care about other people's ideas and on and on and so forth and so forth . . . ad nauseum.

My question is this, why do so many assume that the only person who can be reasonable about other people's views is the person making that assumption? Don't you think that if you were smart enough to realize this then others are too?

I am full of questions. But I have come to one conclusion. When next I hear someone make this broad statement in which they explain why they are more open minded than anyone who disagrees with them I am going to weigh the statement against the person's actions. If they refuse to reconsider their own ideas in all circumstances, then they probably have a very feeble self knowledge.

My philosophy class back in college was very interesting for many reasons. I learned to defend my views, but not just that, I learned to think them through and to question them. I took away an ability to question the very foundations of my thought processes, not so that I could sit in a corner and philosophize, but so that I could communicate with others. I remember that one of the guys in my class was a strict determinist. He believed, for instance, that if you raise your arm it is predetermined that you were going to do that at that moment. I'm not sure who he thought predetermined everything, but that's what he thought. This guy is a great guy, but he never once questioned his own train of thought, at least not in the classroom. It struck me as so strange that someone could come into a class like that and flat out refuse to rethink one's beliefs. I got a poor grade in that class, but I sure analyzed and re-analyzed my worldview.

Sometimes the people who claim to be in the so-called "open minded" camp are the least open minded at all. That always strikes me as funny as I listen to them explain why people of differing opinions suck so much. Actions, those are what really count. What you say or do when no one else is paying attention, that's where your true opinions lie. So I ask you, do your actions and your little spoken thoughts reflect your desire and ability to hear others' opinions or do they reflect the idea that those who differ from you are not open minded? These are very different things.

And for the record I do believe in universal truths, I know this is not completely open minded. I do not care. I agree with Alan Bloom to some extent on the definition of open mindedness. When you take it too far then you have no identity anymore and no leg to stand on. But I also agree with Benjamin Franklin that I learn from almost every idea that I hear. I realize that I might think myself correct in this moment, only to realize in the next that I was all wrong.


little-cicero said...

Great post, though I wonder if you stole some inspiration from my thoughts on tolerance (the self absorbed egotist that I am) If you did, I'm honored! Basically, peoples obsession with tolerance makes them both ignorant to claims of generalization and superior to honest debate. Tolerance is all they believe in, therefore they are intolerant to anything but tolerance (wrap your brain around that one will you!)

Esther said...

Thanks for the compliments. While I did not borrow from your ideas, I can say that your comments back there did cross my mind.

I get my open minded thing from Alan Bloom's book "The Closing of the American Mind" which is a very interesting book. I don't agree with Bloom all the time, but he makes me think. The idea is similar to your comments on tolerance.

little-cicero said...

A little disappointing to my starving male ego, but OK!
I actually was inspired by Dennis Prager on the Tolerance Issue.