Open and Shut… Well, Open is Better
Recently, I was talking with a friend and I mentioned that I think that they are rather closed minded about certain things. This person vehemently denied it, and even said they I had offended them by the accusation. Simply stating that they didn’t like something is not the same thing as being closed minded about something, and offering other excuses and denials. I was getting too tired to listen to all of this, so I decided to end that conversation before it became a full argument and went to bed.
I do recognize that something not being to one’s taste does not automatically equate to being closed-minded about that thing, however, it doesn’t make you exempt from that either to simply say you don’t like it. So, how do you know if you are closed up in the mind about something? I’ll try to answer that for myself as I write this, and maybe it’ll even make sense when I’m finished.
“Intolerant of the beliefs and opinions of others; stubbornly unreceptive to new ideas.” (1) In regard to my friend, this does seem rather harsh, considering the context in which we were speaking, but it’s still accurate for the most part. I think if we take the formal language out and simply say “Not ready to receive new ideas,” I think it’s still within that definition, yet not quite as harsh.
The funny thing about a closed-mind is that it is often not only closed to new thoughts, it is often closed to itself as well. It is closed to new thoughts and anything that threatens the status quo. So trying to change a closed-mind is more than simply telling a person they should try something new, because ‘obviously,’ they won’t even understand the reasoning for your request. And heaven forbid you should mention they’re not even willing to try, because they’ll get offended, more than likely.
Now, I understand how some people can say they don’t like Football, for example, and trying to change a mind on that activity is a very chancy proposition. You can’t say “Oh, but the strategy, the drama, the spirit will move you!” For not every game is exciting, after all. It might be a boring defense oriented game that ends 7-10. Right, even that will turn off some football non-fans. Some people just don’t get sports, and some people do, no big deal. But if you are patient, understanding, or at least polite, a passive acceptance is possible for most people, for as Aristotle said “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
The argument that “it’s just not to my taste” is a tough one, because let’s be honest, some things people don’t enjoy, for whatever reason. I don’t like Period Epics for the most part, for example. However, I’ll still watch them if recommended to me by someone I trust that knows me and what I like. Because I respect their opinion, and I’m not unwilling to give things a chance. I think that if I were to say, “No, I only like Science Fiction and Fantasy movies, so don’t bother me with anything else.” I’d miss out on a lot. Plus, there’d be some confusion. Look at Lord of the Rings. Great, sweeping period epics, although of a Fantasy era that doesn’t, or hasn’t, existed in real life, it still qualifies. Do I go because it’s fantasy, or do I stay away because it’s a Period Epic?
And heck, look at cross-genre stuff. “Outland” is a science fiction remake of “High Noon,” and if you want my opinion, “High Noon” was a superior version of that story. All those spaghetti westerns of the 60’s seem to be remakes of Japanese epics by Kurosawa and the like. (2) “Firefly” was a western masquerading as a space opera. “Alien” was a classic horror film dressed up in a spaceship. “Shaun of the Dead” was a wonderful Zombie movie done as a comedy. Heck, horror and comedy are a wonderful pairing in many successful movies, “Tremors,” “From Dusk ’til Dawn,” and “Army of Darkness” just to name a few of my favorites. Teen angst coming-of-age drama meets werewolf fantasy in “Ginger Snaps.” If I were to say I don’t like Horror no matter what, I’d miss out on some really enjoyable experiences.
Movies and shows as entertainment are not like sports. There are flavors, levels of depth, and combinations that can’t be broken down into a rulebook and played on a field. So you’d think you could convince a person to try something outside of their primary area of interest by pointing out how there’s something they do like as part of greater piece. But no, a person with a closed mind seems to just see the overall genre, and says, “Nope, don’t like that genre, never will, don’t bother me,” yet not acknowledge a closed mind.
It’s a breakdown of terminology, I think. Because in many cases, people I have known that have limited views, shall we say, are also very open in many other ways. Vote for gay rights, love dogs and cats, let their kids have cell phones early on, bed times are negotiable, and all that. They’re cool people, easy to get along with until you reach that one place where they are intractable. “I’m not closed-minded; I like skydiving, for goodness’ sakes!” The two aren’t related. “You might have several open doors in the mind, but just one closed door still prevents passage in that direction.” – Me.
The enemy of the open mind is the unreasoning fear, the unthinking devotion to an idea or theme. “When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.” – Mark Twain. Probably the least funny, but no less true and insightful quote I ever read from Mr. Twain. Reason is the best way to learn to go beyond what you are comfortable with, to learn and grow into areas you wouldn’t have previously ventured. And education is the path toward reason. Experience leads to education, and therein lies the rub. If you are so closed-minded to refuse to try a new experience, you’ll never get educated enough to gain the reasoning to open the mind up.
So, sometimes you have to trust to other people to know you, and to educate you by proxy. That’s how I learned to like Les Misérables. Someone I respected knew I liked musicals and thought I should go see it, and so started a rather distressing obsession for a while. (I even read the Victor Hugo novel. Talk about a sweeping period epic!) If I’d told my friend back then that “There’s no way I’d like it, it’s in a genre I know I don’t like, so don’t bother,” I know I’d have offended him. But instead, I learned something rather new, and it expanded my world just a little bit more. And that helped me enjoy still more things, and helped me to learn to open my mind still more. “The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” –Terry Pratchett. But it’s a good thing to let people “put things in it.” You learn to love more about the world, your friends, and yourself than you ever would otherwise.
When your mind starts to open up after a long period of strongly held ideas, you might have other issues, as Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes, another opens. But we often look so regretfully upon the closed door that we don’t see the one which has opened for us.” When that happens, you might suffer under the impression that you did what you friend liked, learned something new, so you’re open to new things, when you really aren’t. You’re mourning things, and fall back into the pattern of ignoring what you just tried, and not exploring it further, so never forget that if you do learn something new, keep moving forward, challenge yourself, learn new things, and enjoy life more than you ever have before.
1 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company
2 Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960), Yojimbo was unofficially remade as the Sergio Leone western A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and even Last Man Standing (1996) and numerous other examples.