Close-Mindedness, Open-Mindedness, and Meta-Systemic Thinking

Seen on a bumper sticker on the way home this evening:

bq. “The mind is like a parachute-It only works when it is open.”

I find it interesting that the general assumption is that a person is either open-minded or close-minded. It’s like you have to pick which one you want to be, and it had better not be close-minded (according to the edicts of the culture-at-large). For those who consider themselves open-minded, it’s the only way to view to the world. Open-mindedness is a breath of fresh air, allowing all men to be at peace with another because they can now accept one another without prejudice because all beliefs, all values, and all worldviews are equally correct, because there is no such thing as being right (or at least not 100% right) about anything, because it is the height of arrogance to ever propose to your fellow man that his beliefs might be in error or flawed in the slightest. The only blight upon this system are those they consider to be close-minded (a condition considered almost on a level with pedophilia, it seems), those who believe that their way is the only way, those who feel that they have no need for further analysis of their beliefs and worldviews.

Strangely enough, neither position recognizes, let alone acknowledges, the inconsistencies of their own stances. The ‘open-minded’ individual is tolerant of everything but the close-minded individual, making the open-minded individual close-minded in his very open-mindedness. The ‘close-minded’ individual is so self-assured of his correctness, of his ‘rightness’, that he is completely unwilling to acknowledge the idea that he may be mistaken in his logic or in his
conclusions and is thus unable to admit that the open-minded individual with whom he has been conversing may have a valid point. Both extremes are so confident and comfortable in their self-chosen philosophical stances that they rotely discard the entirety of the other’s arguments out of hand because it is seen as deriving from a philosophy which is completely counter to their own. Sadly, as a result, many great trues and compromises are lost to this practice, and
many great and wise men are reduced to foolishness and idiocy.

What both the open-minded individual and the close-minded individual seem to not understand is that their philosophical approaches are not simply an either/or choice but rather are two ends of a continuum. The continuum looks something like this:

Close-minded ————————– Open-minded

Every man, woman, and child alive fits somewhere along this line, and few populate the furthest extremes. Few people (if any) are so open-minded that they are willing to embrace any and every philosophy arbitrarily. And few (if any) are so close-minded that they reject every single philosophy that is not their own. Instead, everyone is open-minded about some things and close-minded about others.

I would propose that a specific mid-point be assigned to the above continuum.

Close-minded ————- Meta-System ————- Open-minded

This is my conceptualization of meta-systemic thinking. The prefix meta in this case means “beyond; transcending; more comprehensive; at a higher state of development.” When applied to thinking systems, meta opens up a whole new world of possibilities. It combines the best of close-minded and open-minded thinking while discarding the worst of both. Meta-systemic thinking would be known, in more familiar terms, as critical thinking, but in calling it meta-systemic thinking, certain implications and techniques are found that the definition of ‘critical thinking’ has lost (or never had).

Meta-systemic thinking approaches every philosophy and every worldview with a fresh eye, critiquing, anyalzing, breaking down, identifying assumptions, naming presuppositions, ferreting out flaws, and praising strengths. Meta-systemic thinking collates all that which is worth keeping and discards all that which is not. Meta-systemic thinking is continually reshaping the individual, being just open-minded enough to accept the possibility that a personal conclusion
or bit of logic may be flawed and in being willing to correct that flaw, even in accepting a bit of truth from a philosophy traditionally viewed as being wholly incorrect. It is also just close-minded enough to be willing to settle down to a firm stance once the individual believes that all available information has been gathered and processed and the chaff discarded. It is something of a tight-rope to walk, constantly struggling to balance on the edge of correctness while admitting the flaw of human error. Meta-systemic thinking acknowledges the existence of absolute truth and that that truth can be known by men. Meta-systemic thinking is an ongoing process, lifelong and continual, but overall it is a healthier and more robust approach to critical thought.

What I find so amazing is how few individuals are unwilling or unable to engage in meta-systemic thought, allowing instead personal hubris to interfere. Many a productive discussion has been derailed by the refusal to critically listen and think about the opposing argument and adjust accordingly. If only more people were willing to use their minds, rather than their feelings, to engage the world, we might find ourselves in a better place.

15 thoughts on “Close-Mindedness, Open-Mindedness, and Meta-Systemic Thinking”

  1. We have learned to see polar opposites in theworld - concepts like good and evil, hot and cold, open- and closed-minded.  These polar concepts offer a convenient system for organizing and understanding the world.  Unfortunately these constructs greatly over-simplify the reality they are supposed to represent, by emphasizing, as you point out, the extremes, rather than the continuum.  Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I see what you mean about sharing your deeper thoughts with a wide circle of individuals. I also think that there should be a place between open-mindedness and close-mindedness. I would like to believe that I’m there. Anyway, I guess I’m out now. Take care and God bless ~ Janna

  3. Meta-systemic.  I like that.  You’ve made me think about my own mindedness…am I like one or the other, or a little more balanced.  I like to think I’m balance, but who knows…
    Anyway, I was just stopping in to welcome you to the Grown-ups with Content blogring.  I hope you enjoy it, I can see you’re going to be a great addition!  See you around!  ~D~

  4. Wow! I have never played Halo but my son wants it, so maybe I’ll evesdrop from time to time, just to stay in this century from the past and all…I enjoyed your words today. It was almost like my breathing exercises – open mind, close mind, sigh, breathe, etc. You get it. Anyway I was reading the other day about the Socratic Method – this is where you just keep asking questions to arrive at an answer. I guess I always ask the wrong questions, but seriously – if you keep asking questions you will learn and find new answers. Open Mind – dust out – leave open – Smile!

  5. I had to blog ya today…you have influenced me…good or bad remains to be seen! Smile. I just checked out from my school library, Halo, The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund. I am gonna read it over my long weekend and get myself enlightened. Also saw some previews for Star Wars, getting pumped. Thanks for the influence. Smile.

  6. RYC – Hey, I learned to play pac man and Tron when I was 18 and they had just came out. My son is into those Mec Warriors and Yugio stuff and I figure if I read the books, I’ll get into the groove. Ha!

  7. This is a very late comment, I know. I found this blog-entry while surfing the web after a two-day email argument with members of my writers’ group. One member is a close friend of mind, through which I joined the writers’ group. I had considered this friend close-minded for not being willing to watch a TV program I had raved about. I thought your article was a very interesting idea, but I question whether open-mindedness and close-mindedness really represent degrees of ‘mindedness’ on a continuum with meta-systemic thinking being in the middle. For one thing, tolerance and open-mindedness are too completely different concepts. Tolerance is allowing others to hold views and make life choices different from you. Open-mindedness, on the other hand, is the willingness to consider other points of view for evaluation. Unfortunately, the ‘consider’ and ‘evaluation’ parts of the definition are lost all too often to many people. The word ‘consider’ gets equated with ’embrace’. Too many people make the mistake of thinking that if you are open-minded, it means you embrace any and every position or available life choice you encounter, no matter how far-fetched or irrational that position or choice is. The conclusion that follows is all views and choices have the same merit, which is not at all what being open-minded is all about. It is instead, the willingness to think through those views and choices. The mind is still required to do the work required in the evaluation process. And at the end, the idea or choice will be assigned positive or negative value. So it is possible to be open-minded enough to consider a view and then reject it after you have gone through the work of evaluating it.

    Close-mindedness, on the other hand is about rejecting a viewpoint without going through any work of evaluation. There is not attempt to use any tools of assessment. It is rejected out of hand simply for being alien to the mind encountering it.

  8. Thanks for your comment, devnull. Wow. Talk about bringing a long-dead topic back to life. :)

    I do think that the definitions you provide are what are considered the ideal, what the words are _supposed_ to mean. The biggest problem I have, however, is that a good many of the very same people who claim to be open-minded are the ones who will quickly say, “Your opinion/belief/value-system is just as valid as mine, so I cannot tell you that you are wrong and I am right, because truth is relative.” This is a philosophical and ideological stance that 1) I cannot abide and 2) simply does not make sense, even within itself. These sort of open-minded people claim to evaluate and assess in search of truth when in reality they are simply attempting to keep from rocking the boat, unaware all the while that the boat has a leak and is slowly sinking into the depths. I’ve never understood how anyone who truly claims to be an evaluator of what is true and what is not can come to the conclusion that everyone’s beliefs and views are equally valid as the next, particularly when there are clear cases of truth and untruth, thesis and antithesis, held in juxtaposition to one another. Hence my rant against this supposed ideal of being open-minded. Perhaps what is needed is clearer definitions and more precise terms for these various approaches to the understanding of truth.

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