Many say that to solve the world’s problems, we simply have to open our minds, do away with judgment and lean into acceptance. But does unbridled open-mindedness have its pitfalls?
Does every idea, theory, or way of life require the same consideration?
In an effort to push back against harsh judgment and narcissistic attitudes, we often feel the need to keep an open mind to the values and ways of every person we meet. While this is a noble goal, if we are not careful in choosing the way we approach open-mindedness, trying on the beliefs of every person you meet could be harmful.
Many people live rooted in the materialistic belief that money and things matter more than the well-being of other humans, and many more operate with subtle beliefs around generosity and kindness that don’t promote the happiness of others. These approaches teach us that this is a “dog-eat-dog world” with “every man out for himself,” and even when we don’t consciously accept these beliefs, they can seep into other beliefs we have. As a result, we might say we believe that good people exist in the world, but only trust people who look and talk the way we do.
If by trying to be open-minded we accept or absorb the majority of opinions we run into, we might easily find ourselves perpetuating individualistic or selfish ways of life, since so many messages in our society encourage us to be individualistic or selfish.
The Baha’i writings describe one limitation that we might want to temper our mental openness with, rather than accepting and embracing every perspective that comes our way:
… when man does not open his mind and heart to the blessing of the spirit, but turns his soul towards the material side, towards the bodily part of his nature, then is he fallen from his high place and he becomes inferior to the inhabitants of the lower animal kingdom. In this case the man is in a sorry plight! For if the spiritual qualities of the soul, open to the breath of the Divine Spirit, are never used, they become atrophied, enfeebled, and at last incapable; whilst the soul’s material qualities alone being exercised, they become terribly powerful – and the unhappy, misguided man, becomes more savage, more unjust, more vile, more cruel, more malevolent than the lower animals themselves. All his aspirations and desires being strengthened by the lower side of the soul’s nature, he becomes more and more brutal, until his whole being is in no way superior to that of the beasts that perish. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 97.
We can keep an open mind about things as long as they do not turn us towards material interests, rather than spiritual qualities. While we try to maintain a humble attitude, we can also try to direct our mind towards beliefs that allow us to see how humanity uplifts itself rather than those beliefs that degrade us:
He must turn away from ideas which degrade the human soul, so that day by day and hour by hour he may advance upward and higher to spiritual perception of the continuity of the human reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 89.
Instead of assuming that any given belief holds equal weight with others, it’s helpful to be wary of accepting those that keep us from growth. Opening our mind to these ideas can distract us from more constructive ideas that could alleviate the suffering of others. When we submit to convictions that the world has to remain troubled or unjust because people simply cannot do any better, we degrade ourselves. We subtly accept that we are also incapable of the change that would eventually create peace.
To be open-minded, we don’t have to just accept any ideology that comes our way or try on whatever lifestyle we encounter. We can try to understand the beliefs that others have and act with humility, knowing that there is so much we have to learn from one another, without losing time trying on every single habit that we encounter. We can consider new things with discernment without putting ourselves above others.
Above all, the Baha’i writings say:
Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship … This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 288.
Humility exalteth man to the heaven of glory and power. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 29.