Close-Mindedness

“Why do you think people are close-minded?”

I regarded the question like a fresh forehead pimple on a first date. “Because people are idiots, that’s why.”

“What a close-minded answer,” my friend answered.

I laughed. “Damn, you’re right.” I put down my mocha and shook my head.

He smirked. “No really, what do you think?”

“You’re seriously wondering this?” I watched him nod once. “Well, I think it’s easy to be close-minded. It takes less effort. And many people prefer to take the path of least resistance.”

He scratched his chin and took a sip of espresso. “You’ve got a point there. Effort is a real turn-off.”

“Right. Thinking about every concept, every behavior, every statement, in a critical way requires active thinking. It requires questioning the underlying assumptions behind it. I don’t think many people want to or have the capacity to do that, and not always for reasons of their own.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think some people willingly opt for ignorance, though they don’t see it that way. Others may just be too tired to question everything and follow mental shortcuts, which sometimes mean accepting the assumptions in front of them. Ever read the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion?”

He shook his head.

“It’s a book about the techniques salespeople use against unsuspecting prey. Many of its techniques are based on catching people at their most vulnerable, when they’re least likely to put up defenses. One of those moments is when they’re in a rush and busy thinking about other stuff. Their mental defenses are down. They don’t want to bother with anything except what they have to do. If you ask them for something seemingly innocuous and bother them enough, they’ll acquiesce. One example is Hari Krishnas at airports. Remember how they used to give you a flower in exchange for a donation?”

He scratched his head and sniffed his espresso. “Yea, I do.”

“Most people gave the Hari Krishnas a dollar just so they wouldn’t be hassled any further. It was the path of least resistance, a mental shortcut to get by an annoyance.”

“That certainly makes sense,” he replied between sips. “So you’re saying close-mindedness is related to this phenomenon somehow?”

“I suspect so. I would guess that close-mindedness, for some people, is just a mental shortcut. They are otherwise intelligent professionals going about their days. But when hit with something that’s not critical enough for their current cognitive load, they defer to blindly trusting the assumptions and opt for the mental shortcut. I don’t mean to equate close-mindedness with giving a donation to a Hari Krishna, but the mental workload is similar. And I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it—”

I caught my friend rolling his eyes with a grin. I smirked in reply and continued.

“—as have many people out there. It’s an unintended close-mindedness, if you will. Furthermore, the degree to which someone can maintain this cognitive effort and an open mind varies day by day, subject by subject. You might find yourself extremely open-minded about religion, but unconsciously close-minded about your annoying relatives who come over drunk every Thanksgiving.”

“Nice analogy there. So you’re saying close-mindedness is a form of mental laziness?”

I swirled my mocha and watched the chocolate syrup whirl. “In a way, yes, I guess I am. For some people. I think others actively choose to stick by the assumptions they’ve been taught, perhaps for traditional reasons, social reasons, whatever. But for some, yes, it’s a form of unconscious mental laziness.”

We sipped our drinks in silence. Across from me was a man reading the headlines off a stack of newspapers. He scoffed at something and shook his head, then relayed his thoughts to the barista with animated arms. The barista just shrugged.

“It’s the people who stick by their assumptions that bother me,” my friend suddenly added. “That kind of stubbornness is… inexcusable. It’s… it’s…”

I stared down at my cup and nodded. “I know, it’s tough to swallow. But they’re entitled to their opinion, right? They hold strong to their beliefs because they see strength in standing by a conviction. Resolve. Faith. Stubbornness. Call it what you will, but at the end of the day, aren’t you being close-minded about not accepting their views, just because you disagree with them?”

He shook his head. I drank my mocha, put it down, and took a second sip, and he was still shaking his head.

“Close-mindedness, to me, means someone is unwilling to look at alternatives and question the underlying assumptions of some belief,” he finally stated. “If they’ve thought it through and have formed a conclusion, that’s great. I’m happy for them. They have a conviction now. But if they reject every and any statement that may legitimately poke a hole in their argument, that’s close-mindedness. That’s going overboard. Someone can be convicted, yet still open to alternative views if a logical one presents itself.”

“I wholeheartedly agree.” I toasted him with my cup. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s inexcusable. It’s downright ignorant is what it is.”

I laughed. “There you go, being close-minded about them again.”

“I guess,” he added, “I’m just close-minded about close-minded people.”

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

4 thoughts on “Close-Mindedness”

  1. Nice post, I’ve had this very discussion with others as well. I agree with the “mental shortcut” theory and would like to add one other ingredient: fear. I’d say closed-mindedness falls into two categories, one being what you’ve discussed, laziness, and the other being fear.

    Our beliefs aren’t flat, they’re multi-layered with a foundation and then other beliefs are piled on top. If you ask someone to remove their foundational beliefs for a moment, that’s a pretty scary thing and some people are just emotionally/psychologically unable to do that. It’s too scary to have to reevaluate everything that was built on top of that initial assumption.

    I’ve found that those who grasp dogmatically to a belief in a closed-minded way are more affected by fear than anything else. You can hear it in their voice, the panic that comes along with fear. In that case, you need to respect that they cannot overcome that fear to take the journey you’re asking. Closed-mindedness becomes a defense mechanism against such agitation.

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