the danger of open mindedness

Being open minded is generally a good thing.  It is, in essence, being willing to accept new ideas.  Having an open mind allows us to learn about the world, to enjoy new experiences, and to connect with people outside our usual sphere.  All of these improve our lives or the world as a whole.

It can, however, be a cop-out.  Sometimes people fail to stand up for themselves and their beliefs in the name of open mindedness.   If we believe in morality, or in some kind of goodness (divine or otherwise), then we believe that there are lines to be drawn.

The extreme example that we often use in discussing morality is murder.  Just to push these extremes: if a group of people is killing others without justification beyond enjoyment, and someone has the ability to stop them without great cost, would it be okay for that person to shrug it off and say, I'm just trying to have an open mind?  I hope not.

So if we accept that open mindedness is dangerous in the extreme, what about the more nuanced occurrences in our daily lives?  If you suspect your friend is cheating on an exam, is accepting that behavior okay?  It seems like the right first step would be to confront your friend, find out the truth, and if thy are cheating then tell them that their behavior is unacceptable—taking action in this way is the exact opposite of open-mindedness.

In the religious world, this is often called righteousness, or adherence to a moral code.  If morality is important, then so is standing up for morality when others violate it.  This gets a little tricky, however, as certain aspects of morality are highly personal.

I believe that we should each have our own moral code—rules that govern our personal behavior—and that we should righteously adhere to it.  This doesn't mean that we need to proselytize our morality, but it does mean that when friends ask for advice, that we should actually give it to them according to our own morals, instead of saying what we think they want to hear.

It also means that we should kindly stand up against behavior that makes us feel uncomfortable.  In doing so, we have the opportunity to learn—if our morality can be improved, then this gives the other people involved a chance to respond.  In fact, open mindedness is essential to this paradigm: as we consult with friends, we improve our morality.  The crux of the problem is: when do we know that we are actually improving our morality, as opposed to degrading it?

2014/12/1 update
  Vaguely related: a NYT opinions piece entitled The Trick to Being More Virtuous.

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