Have We Lost Our Ability To Be Open Minded?

I’ve noticed that in so many areas these days, people have their minds made up.  About what?  Well, pretty much everything.  The thing is, I can’t decide if this happened as I’ve gotten older, meaning that people have gotten more decisive, or because I’ve gotten older, where maybe people have been this way all along, but I never really noticed it until now?

I’ve always said that you shouldn’t talk about politics or religion at social gatherings, work, or even within family, because it’s likely you’re going to stir up the pot.  This is very true.  It seems in both of those realms, people have their mind made up, so is a meaningful, thought provoking discussion really possible?

If a hardcore liberal and an ultra conservative person get together and start talking politics, what do you think the chances are that they will find common ground?  Probably not.  But, this element has always been there.  What’s different now is how far reaching this has gone.  Now, one of those people could be talking to someone who’s squarely in the middle, and there is still a big possibility of an argument.  Because, in many cases these days, the person who is so steadfast in their beliefs not only looks down upon those who have opposing beliefs, but they look down on anyone who doesn’t unequivocally share their beliefs altogether.   So, before, you could have two people talking about government health care, and the only real chance an argument would break out would be between those who favored versus those who opposed it.  Now, you’d have either one of those people getting in the faces of someone who just wasn’t sure or who didn’t have a strong opinion either way.

That’s kind of sad.

How did we get there?

Instant information.  I think that access to information at the tip of your fingers is great, but it also means that there are many more informational sources, and most of them are going to give you much more than just the information.  Think about how something like Obamacare would have been presented fifty years ago.  There were three TV networks, and chances are you had one or two local newspapers, and together these sources would be the source of most peoples knowledge.

This meant that people could focus more on the subject.

Now, think about all the sources of information you could use to gather information on the topic.  You have a couple of dozen TV channels that can provide information in one fashion or another.  You have Facebook, Twitter and other social media.  You have online news sites, many of which claim to be news sites, but are more ‘opinion columns’.  You have blogs, which number in the millions.

All of these things together offer many times the amount of information you used to get. So, how can this be a bad thing?

Because we allow this information to form our thinking.  Fifty years ago, with just a couple of networks and a couple of papers, people did not have the wealth of knowledge and certainly not the amount of opinion behind those things.  What this forced people to do was form opinions on their own.  They didn’t have the luxury of finding out, at a moments notice, what 5,000,000 other Americans thought about the subject.  In many cases, if the media source presented the information in a neutral fashion, you had no choice but to form an opinion on a basis of the facts available.

Talking things over.  Back in the old days, in addition to the limited media information that you had available, you also had another way to gather information and form opinions: Talking with other people.   After you read about the change in the newspaper or saw Walter Cronkite talking about it on TV for a couple of minutes, you had to go and gather the information on your own.

You could talk to your friends.  You could talk to your neighbors.  You could hear what they think, and because you only had limited information and you didn’t have people screaming at you how you should think, it kept your mind open so that discussions could actually lead to opinions being formed.

Can this happen in our information saturated world today?

I’m not naive enough to think that fifty years ago, every person walked around with an open mind on every topic, and you could have an engaging discussion about anything with anyone.  I’m sure that’s far from the truth.  There are close-minded people and people who have formed their opinions, and there always have been.

I just think that there were fewer of them back then.

I also think that back then, even if you had formed an opinion on something, you could often have a conversation about a topic with someone who didn’t see things your way, and still end up having an engaging discussion.

Nowadays, I go to Facebook and I see people with left-leaning tendencies start a post talking about ‘those idiot Republicans’ or vice versa.  Regardless of how I feel either way, that type of wording is problematic because it shuts down any and all possibility of a meaningful dialogue.

People think they’re right.  The opportunities that social media have created are endless.  It allows you to connect with people you might not interact with on a day to day basis.  It allows you to gather information in a moments notice that you might not otherwise even know existed.  But, it also gives everybody a voice.  It makes everybody think that their voice needs to be heard, especially if it’s a topic on which they feel strongly about.

The fact is that just because you feel strongly about something doesn’t make you an expert and it certainly doesn’t make you right.  Unfortunately, this is a point largely lost these days where being given a platform makes people automatically assume that they’re right and anyone else who doesn’t see things exactly as they do is wrong.

I wish people would subscribe more to the old adage that it’s better to listen than to speak.  The world would be a better place for it.

Readers, do you see the same thing I see here or has it been this way all along and I’m just seeing things with a different perspective as I get older?

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24 thoughts on “Have We Lost Our Ability To Be Open Minded?

  1. You hit the nail on the head! I think we’ve become entirely to divisive as a country. It used to be that if you did not agree with someone you could at the very least agree to disagree and respect the other person. Now, it’s a shouting match and the felt need to talk over the other person with no desire to listen. In my opinion, if James Carville & Mary Matalin can be married (and they’re about as politically opposite as you can get) then we all can get along just a little better.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Even More Blogging Tips From a BeginnerMy Profile

    • That’s a very good point, the Internet definitely brings out the ability to be nasty without the repercussions.

  2. Growing up in a very religious, conservative family, I was not allowed to have an open mind or question things too much. I had a really hard time as a teenager because this just never sat right with me, not that I knew what was out there, but I knew there must be something. I have very strong opinions about many issues, but I an almost always able see someone else’s side. I run into lots of people who are very strongly minded on a subject and you can go about dealing with them in one of two ways. Either butt heads and get nowhere or try to see their point, even if you don’t agree or at least agree to disagree. I think the media likes to sensationalize things for ratings. It doesn’t help things when you have to deal with your neighbor or a business associate that shares different view. I always try to be Switzerland.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Debt Movement: Get Rid of Debt Payments Once and For AllMy Profile

    • At least you were able to get past the limitations that had been placed upon you after you were old enough and independent enough to make your own decisions. That’s great!

  3. In a class I took recently on human development, I learned that the average person learns to begin filtering out anything that doesn’t agree with their world view by the time they’re 13 years old. So, political view? It’s probably what your parents believe (or people in your immediate area of the world) and you have learned to accept and defend it. Religious beliefs? Probably the same ones you’ve had since 13, and you’ve deepened your belief that you’re right.
    AverageJoe recently posted..Average Joe’s Friday Read-a-LongMy Profile

    • These are valid points and I’m sure human nature certainly leads to those tendencies. It’s when people get so entrenched in those beliefs that they refuse to accept that others even have differing views that we get ourselves into trouble.

  4. Very valid points, I believe that the amount of information we have available to us is beneficial but doesn’t come without a price.

    I think the real sad thing is how much life has become a “show.” Keeping up with the Jones just got 100x worse with social media.

  5. This article was very well said. I personally stay away from any topics like this. I hate confrontation and that is also one of the reasons I quit Facebook. I was tired of posting my thought and having people try to argue with me. I feel everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and it is ok to agree to disagree.

  6. I really like the final reminder to listen more. I guess respecting other’s opinion and reserving them to arrive with a more sensible view, is also appropriate. This requires a lot of humility – to accept that your own ideas might also be wrong.
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    • It’s not even a matter of right or wrong. Sometimes it’s just your belief system, but what’s wrong to you might be perfectly right to someone else. Realizing that there is no definitive right or wrong is what many people just can’t simply come to grasp.

  7. Well… I don’t know that it’s impossible for people with opposing views to find common ground. Evan (My Journey to Millions) and I are diametrically opposed on almost any politically tinged topic you can think of (I, of course, am the one who’s right 😉 ), but we often surprise ourselves by discovering we agree on various aspects of the issues.

    Your insight that the shift in the media that deliver information may have something to do with the rampant pigheadedness is very interesting. As an old bat who lived through that shift, I’d add these observations:

    * It was only fairly recently that campaigners and ideologues did not learn that if you repeat a falsehood often enough, people will believe it. Of course, we knew about propaganda; but outright, deliberate lies were a lot harder to get into the national discourse then than today.

    * Few true extremists, with the exception of the Joe McCarthy type, were able to gain a strong foothold in national politics. They existed on the state and local level, but by and large the national stage was dominated by centrists.

    * Indeed the national televised news delivery was dominated by a small handful of media; they had very strong news bureaus whose journalists tried (not always successfully, but sincerely) to report the facts objectively and not to dwell on the lurid. That is no longer true today.

    * Local media, on the other hand, were extremely diverse. Every major city had at least two newspapers, a morning and an evening paper, and frequently the two news organizations would represent opposite points of view on the issues. Most people would get both papers, and so most readers would have opportunities to consider both sides of any given issue. The opposite is true today: local media have been absorbed into huge international Borgs whose politics are obtrusive, dangerous, and short-sighted and whose management style leaves no room for a broad array of opinion. Newspapers are dying on the vine, and the loss is reflected in exactly what we see in our national conversation today.

    * The Internet allows us to spout off on any topic we please and broadcast our opinions to the entire planet. However, its extreme immediacy does little to improve our critical thinking skills.

    People think they’re right because they are right, within their immediate context. The paradox of the Internet is that even though it brings us the entire universe, its very vastness works to herd us into our own little narrow-minded pastures, cutting off serious consideration of other points of view. Too much is too little.
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    • Very well said. It is sad how our local news has gotten so diluted and dumbed down compared to even 10-20 years ago. I still sit down and read the Sunday newspaper, and I can get everything read in an hour, it’s so full of fluff these days, where in years past you could make a morning of the paper.

  8. I honestly think that people are more open minded these days in general, but that I am becoming more close-minded myself. Back 30-40 years ago people were very set in their ways, and it was unheard of to say or do certain things. Nowadays I think most people have become desensitized to the actions of others, primarily because of the media.
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  9. I do miss the opportunity to have a good discussion. I just wish the ones with varying opinions weren’t trying to change those of the people around them. That is where discussion dies and arguments start!
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