A friend of mine recently turned me on to a site called “Free Press.” I guess it used to be called “Common Sense.”
I put those things in bigtime “air quotes” because I’m immediately suspicious. Part of my suspicion, I have to admit, is because the friend that sent me the link is very conservative, and I’m not. I’m not proud of that, but there it is.
Still, I’m pleased with the degree of two-sidedness that I’ve seen in what I’ve read so far. This, speaking as a guy who purposely tries to avoid political discussions on principal. I’m more interested in the way we have conversations than in the content or outcome of the conversations themselves. That’s the flag I’m flying for now.
My friend (let’s call him Jeff) and I got into a conversation about this site, and about “sidelessness” versus “open-mindedness”. Jeff says (I’ve edited):
You see sidelessness and I see open-mindedness. …are sidelessness and open-mindedness synonyms? … Of course people will lean into what they think are the certainties of their life, but to be certain and still keep the door open to your mind is the way to go. Sidelessness seems anchorless to me in the end… resigned to the fact there is no “right” side to seek But seek we must – endlessly and relentlessly. Sidelessness seems like a destination in and of itself.
The reason I go with the open-mindedness (I think) is that we should fear no questions for what we perceive our certainties to be. The most dangerous folks to Society at the moment are those who refuse to entertain any questions about their own certainties. Dangerous to have answers that are allergic to any questions.
(to which I respond…)
I agree with everything you said, and yet I still prefer sidelessness over open-mindness as a moniker. Both are imperfect. Sidelessness is not a destination, BTW — it’s a starting point. I agree that we must “side” — endlessly and relentlessly, as you say. As I’ve said many times, life is a series of essay questions, but the tests are usually multiple-choice.
The reason I cringe at “open-mindedness” is because I don’t think people are open-minded by default. Certainly not at the start of a conversation. I’ll tell you why I say that. It goes like this…
Let’s say I’m mediating a discussion (this happens a lot at work). We introduce a subject. I say “is there anything someone could say that might sway you from your position?” (or something like that).
Usually, the answer is some form of “yes, but I dare you” on the surface, and “I doubt it” just under the surface. We tease that out, and ultimately arrive at “so, your mind is essentially closed — at least on this particular subject, for the moment.”
They say “NO!” (nobody likes to be labeled as “close-minded”)
I say “but you just told me that you’ve given this subject a great deal of thought, and there’s probably nothing that could convince you. That sounds to me like a closed mind.” It’s not saying “I refuse to change my mind” (true close-mindedness), but it’s effectively pretty close to the same thing, because we identify with our thoughts. Changing our minds means giving up a piece of ourselves, and we’re wired against that.
To me, true “open-mindedness” means “I’m not attached to any particular outcome. Let’s start from scratch and see where this leads.” And, even then, once it actually does lead somewhere, we’re back at being less open-minded again. The point point to thinking, after all, is to avoid having to think about that particular thing anymore.
This sometimes becomes an interesting discussion, and sometimes we can end up agreeing that we’re not as “open” as we like to think we are. For me, that’s an open door, not a closed one.
I think we inherit most of our bigger beliefs on subjects — politics and religion, in particular — and we’ve made up our minds on most subjects before we’ve really considered any recent information. Most of our energy is spent trying to interpret the information in such a way that it supports our pre-existing beliefs, rather than examining the information and discovering what it causes us to believe. There’s considerable research on this, BTW, centered mostly around confirmation bias.
So we have to “endlessly and relentlessly” combat this natural tendency if we are to even begin to approach any kind of objective truth(s). Furthermore, we can’t do that in a conversation without some level of trust in each other — some assurance that we won’t be belittled for changing our minds; some idea that the other guy isn’t the enemy. Without trust, we just dig in.
So. Expect to see clippings from the Free Press (no air quotes) coming in the future…