“Open Your Mind”—almost everyone has heard this advice in his/her life. This is precious advice, yet many people choose to ignore it. The following excerpt is the first chapter from my debut book, ‘Keep Sleeping Keep Missing’ where I have stated the reasons many people shirk at the words “open your mind”.
You are an open-minded person if you explore new knowledge and facts with no sense of insecurity, fear and preconceived notions. The need to feel secure with knowledge gained in the past is the primary reason that prevents a person from being open-minded. The ego is always seeking security and surety—it stubbornly clings to its existing knowledge and beliefs. Many people straightaway reject anything that does not conform to their existing set of beliefs. Such people do not want to change, even if they ultimately realise the folly of their current belief system and values. We see this most in organised religions, and this is one cause of religious conflicts. Many educated intellectuals are closed-minded and rigid in their beliefs; they are impervious to higher truths.
A person with a closed mind will look at anything new through perception filters. These perception filters are like coloured glasses. If you take a red crystal and see the sky through it, the sky will appear red; you cannot see the actual sky-blue colour. Perception filters prevent a correct understanding of anything. As an example, a child born to Communist parents is highly unlikely to appreciate other forms of governance, such as Capitalist or Democratic. It will look at everything through a Communist lens. Take an honest look at yourself and see how conditioned your mind is. The more conditioned it is, the more perception filters you will have and the more distorted view of reality you will get.
Let us see some reasons that make people closed-minded:
- Over deference and respect for elders & ancestors – Knowledge and beliefs derived from family elders are holy cows and sacred; therefore, they are immune to improvisation and cannot be updated. Ancestral ego also prevents a person from opening their mind towards alternative possibilities.
- Superiority complex – Many people are proud of their academic/professional qualifications, awards, medals and worldly recognition. They assume that they know everything and respond mechanically with cynicism to anything that does not fit with their existing knowledge base and beliefs. Such people are afraid of being proven wrong as it can damage their reputation and wound their egos. It is amusing when scientists comment on a newly discovered planet and say that it cannot harbour life because there is no oxygen and water on it. Even astronomers opine that our universe has billions of worlds of seemingly endless variety. Is it not possible that the inhabitants of that planet inhale a gas other than oxygen and drink a liquid other than water? These very scientists, however, say that a vast number of species on Earth await discovery. It is strange to see these people pontificating about other planets when they do not fully understand their own!
- Religious conditioning – This is one of the most important reasons many people are closed-minded in matters of spirituality and religion. The actual teachings of prophets have been vastly distorted; religions are now mainly about rituals, dogmas, doctrines and belief systems. These serve as control mechanisms and means of indoctrination, and make many people believe that their religion is the only true religion and the only path to salvation. This fanatical mindset has led to millions of people killed in the name of God. A person conditioned with the beliefs of their religion will find it challenging to open up to higher spiritual truths.
- Affiliations – Individuals who are affiliates of a political party or organisation feel compelled not to look beyond the beliefs and values of their party. A member of a Communist party might never explore and appreciate any other forms of Govt. and instinctively find faults with them. Just see how opposition parties in any Democratic Govt. behave. Even if the Govt. does something good for the country, they will criticise just because they are in the opposition. Affiliations can also be towards a particular philosophy or ism such as atheism and agnosticism. If you are an atheist or an agnostic, you have already concluded that higher realities do not exist and are likely a closed-minded person.
- Idolatry/Hero worship – In the last few decades, we have seen a growing practice of idolatry and hero-worship of public figures. There is nothing wrong in admiring a person, but admiration should never turn to blind worship. Public figures such as celebrities, business leaders and politicians often say things based on half-baked knowledge, personal agendas and a desire for publicity. Frequently, their fans and followers blindly believe their every word. In their eyes, their idols can do no wrong—this is again closed-mindedness that often has unhealthy consequences.
- Psychological issues – A person with low self-esteem is likely to be more closed-minded than a person with high self-esteem. Low self-esteem rarely gives the courage to explore new knowledge and go against the tide. The dominant beliefs of society, culture and powerful people easily influence a person with low self-esteem. Also, some people have a reflex-action like response in opposing anything new that comes to their attention. Often, they themselves do not know why they resist new knowledge and not look beyond their mental box.
- Over rationalism – In every society, some rationalists expose false gurus and debunk superstitions, and in doing so, they genuinely do a commendable service to society. However, people of rational temperament often become overly rational. They refuse to believe that there is a world beyond the material universe. Many rationalists are habitually sceptical of anything which the five senses cannot detect. Despite knowing that the human senses have a limited range, they still cannot fully internalise this fact.
- Economic status – Sections of society with high poverty and illiteracy are usually closed-minded, especially in matters of religion. Mostly, they are highly superstitious and ritualistic. Lack of education does not provide them any frame of reference for higher knowledge.
We define fanaticism mainly in the religious context, but we should realise that every closed-minded person is a fanatic. Just as a religious fanatic defends their religious beliefs, a political fanatic defends their political beliefs. Though the need for security is the prime reason for closed-mindedness, sometimes even laziness can be a reason. Some people know that their knowledge and beliefs are not correct, yet they stick to them. They are too lazy to explore, so convince themselves of the infallibility of their beliefs and worldview.
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