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  • Carolyn L. Baker

The Results of An Open Mind

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

My Guest Column in the Los Angeles Free Press July 2020:

An open mind is said by some to be a virtue that corrects errors in judgment. Others find an open mind a signal of indecisiveness, being wishy-washy, or an inability to think for oneself.  Either way, it’s likely very few, if any, of us would want to admit to having a closed mind. In truth, it is likely we all are, at any given time, somewhere on the continuum between having an open and a closed mind and it varies by day and challenge.  

By and large, identity groups tend to consume media that reifies their position. It was Alan Watts who, in The Way of Zen, wrote, “Men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions makes them the enemies of life.” So not wanting to be an enemy of life, I looked into what leads to an open mind. Turns out, it is a characteristic known as intellectual humility, which is to say, understanding the limits of one’s knowledge. And within that, allowing the admission of being wrong.

Cultivating intellectual humility begins with acknowledging my mind is not perfect, that I have blind spots. We all do. Given this universal condition, there is permission to safely admit, “I was wrong.” Sounds simple, but there was a time when admitting I was wrong was difficult, as my self-worth was tied up in being right. Today I see it more as freeing my intellect from its limited perspective. But it takes practice. And it was with practice in mind that I listened to our President’s 4th of July address.

While standing on Black Hills land, stolen against treaty agreements, our President spoke of equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion, and creed. He stated how we embrace tolerance not prejudice while speaking from the foot of the desecration that is Mount Rushmore. It is intellectual humility that enables one to absorb this jarring cognitive dissonance, hold two opposing ideas in their mind, and still function. Cultivating this ability is powerful, it enables frustration, anger, and helplessness to be side-stepped.

What if we were to do this, not merely as individuals, but as an entire nation? Can we love America while at the same time admit that slavery, white supremacy, and Manifest Destiny were wrong? And if we have an open mind that corrects our errors in judgment, are we ready to make reparations, now? As the Black Lives Matter Movement propels one of the largest societal changes ever in the 200+ years of our collective history, laws of our land will be reshaped to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The good news is intellectual humility and an open mind can be cultivated. Some practices include regularly interacting with a wide circle of diverse friends, being open to new ideas and experiences, and adopting an attitude of ‘live and let live’ and goodwill toward others. Why do this? Well, it’s not a new concept - living in relation to others with compassion and understanding has been embraced by myriad cultures and religions - to their great benefit. And, too, because, in this increasingly interconnected and complicated world, curiosity and intellectual humility have become more crucial to our success than ever before. This is why I explore the illusion of separateness in my book. 

Cultivating intellectual humility and an open mind unleashes creativity and brings us hope. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.” Imagine. By John Lennon.

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