The Virtue of an Open Mind

Growing up in Berkeley in the 60s & 70s, a with-it young dude could hardly point to a more laudable trait than open-mindedness. It was as if all the previous generation (hip oldsters excepted) and their occasional brainwashed offspring had to do was shrug off the square traditions and prejudices that were the root of all evil, and everything would be possible: utopia, the Garden regained, the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to overstate the power of that open/closed-minded dichotomy, maybe the closest we came to a good vs. evil worldview. As a teen I lofted it up, or back, a couple of generations for consideration. My Kentucky grandmother exclaimed “Your mind is so open, sometimes I worry it’s gonna fall right out!”

I took that as a compliment, as far as I could grasp its metaphorical logic, or, if you will, get my mind around it. I later put it to my step-grandfather on the other side in some context like how good or important it was to find, perhaps at the university, equally open-minded friends. This had probably come to me as a sort of obvious litmus test. Jo, a conservative Republican whose past had led him from a Polish palatial childhood to a professional life in the biology lab, replied that as he saw it the real friends one found were not open-minded, but close-minded in the same way as you.

That sounded wrong, very even, at the time, as I took it to mean a kind of ideological partner in crime, someone sharing the same messed-up prejudices. Reflecting now though, I wonder if he wasn’t onto something.

After all, who is the most open-minded among us? Babies, certainly. But knowledge and experience gradually encroach upon that openness, and who would have it any other way?

Judgmentality gets a bad rap, while judgment is wisdom, just as we may seek to retain some child-like freshness without being childish. To what extent does glorifying open-mindedness amount to exalting intellectual immaturity, a kind of ignorance is bliss bs? To regain the garden then, but knowing what’s what.

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