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SCOT BELLAVIA: Why Open-Mindedness Isn’t a Thing

“Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”

In its literalness, this aphorism is incisive. ‘Open-mindedness’ refers to unchecked tolerance and wholesale acceptance. It’s a respect for beliefs that are very much in disagreement with ours (which is fine) even when they’re very much in disagreement with reality (which is foolish).

‘Open-mindedness’ is a virtue in our culture, but we mustn’t kid ourselves by saying we practice it. We do not think of all beliefs equally. We hold some close while scoffing at others. We even rank the beliefs in our own heads.

In All the Ideas Living in My Head, author Don Everts analogizes a boarding house to the process of how he comes to hold the beliefs he does, inferring that we all think this way. In the course of life, he allows permanent residency to some ideas while others he encounters aren’t even given a roommate interview.

“Having Permanent Residents brings a great amount of order to the house. These privileged ideas have authority that allows them to kick new ideas out quickly, and being the highest in the hierarchy in the house, they bring order to my head…This doesn’t mean a Permanent Resident can’t have her story challenged (it frequently is) or be demoted (this does happen from time to time) or even be kicked out…But it does mean they are a special class of ideas.”

Most of the time, the verity of a Permanent Resident goes without saying. We rarely think to question them. This authority we’ve given to a thought can never be removed – else you become a person with fallen-out brains – but it can be transferred.

This is because the permanent status is generally granted to the answers to life’s biggest questions: Is there a god? Why am I here? What happens when we die? Few live a life with meaning if they don’t surmise a meaning to life.

So, you see, our Permanent Residents (Everts also calls them convictions) prevent us from being literally open-minded. None of us have prepared a bunk-bed for two contradictory truths in our head’s boarding home. We simply aren’t that generous…nor gullible.

– Scot Bellavia

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