Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Chinese got it right about closed minded people

A closed mind is like a closed book: just a block of wood.
- Chinese Proverb

No one likes to have to deal with someone with a closed mind. That includes people with closed minds themselves.

What is a closed mind? We hear and read so much about them, but seldom have the term defined.

To understand the closed mind, we begin with a combination of ignorance and fear. These two terms themselves make "closed mind" hard to define. "Ignorance" in this sense means "lack of knowledge."

In the information age, facts (or misinformation disguised as fact) is in abundance on the internet, just as it has always been available in libraries. People don't know a great deal about the many different topics that come up in conversation or home or work environments during a day. There is more to learn than they have the time or inclination to absorb.

This sets them up for embarrassment if their lack of knowledge is revealed to others. The fear of that embarrassment causes them to formulate strategies to protect themselves, just as a person who can't read will create strategies to prevent others from finding out about their skill gap.

This combination of fear and ignorance so predominates the lives of some people that they literally create lifestyles around their defence strategies. Comparing it to someone who can't read, again, you likely know one or more people who are unable to read, but you aren't aware of it because their defence strategies have been successful. So it is too with the person with the ignorance-fear protection strategy.

Some of these people, whom we can call "closed minded" because they are afraid to have any new information input into their brain since it may upset their defence strategy, are bold about their position. They adopt rationales for things and argue vigorously with those who think differently. They often have been provided with arguing points from mentors, such as religious or political leaders. They are arrogant, aggressive and care little for the feelings of others (which would reveal their lack of real knowledge).

The more common kind of closed minded person is either quiet or acts behind the scenes. The latter would be the neighbourhood gossip, for example, spreading their venom about a victim in face-to-face chats without the victim present. The vast majority of closed minded people are quiet about their positions on many issues because they fear that by opening their mouths they will reveal just how little they know. They don't vote, for example, because they say the candidates are all crooks or paid by industries.

There's nothing wrong with knowing nothing, they believe, so long as you don't advertise it publicly.

Closed minded people reveal themselves by either avoiding discussion on issues of current interest to most people (such as elections) or by taking positions for which they offer no support, only emotional arguments. "Do you support the president or do you support the terrorists?" is a typical emotional argument, as no room is left for a reply that does not fit into one of the two untenable categories.

You can't win an argument with a person with a closed mind. There's no point trying. They don't have room in the tiny sections of their brains in which they eke out their existence to entertain facts or arguments that don't fit perfectly with the positions they hold. Anyone who tries to carry on a debate with a closed minded person will end up in a pissing match because the closed mind will hurl insults rather than confront issues about which he or she knows little or nothing.

As the Chinese proverb hints, you might better debate with a block of wood than with a closed minded person. At least you would come away more emotionally intact.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show you where the brick walls are so you can navigate around them.
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