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How to Open Closed Minds

Social Security reform, Medicare reform, The Affordable Care Act, the entitlement society, international spying, stem-cell research, global warming, the energy policy:   It seems that everyone has an opinion about these issues, and few want to change it.

A reader wrote to me recently from Pakistan:  “How can we open closed minds?  I have a person who does not want to listen to any arguments or logic!”

The process of getting someone to open their closed mind is much like getting someone to open a closed home ….

As a young newlywed, I moved to Okinawa while my husband served in the military.  We lived near Kadena Circle in off-base housing, not in the best part of the island.  It was the first time I’d traveled outside the United States—much less lived outside my country of birth.  So I took seriously all precautions the military issued.  We kept the outer gate between the two concrete walls surrounding our yard closed and locked at all times.  The steel bars across our windows held the shutters tightly in place.  Every evening, we slid those 2-inch thick wooden shutters under the heavy iron bars across our window and locked them.

In addition to locking out intruders, we limited contact to a small circle of friends.  I spoke no Japanese, so meeting the neighbors was useless.  My outings consisted of little more than driving on to the base for groceries, chapel, and military get-togethers.

But as I met more and more people around the base and they invited us into their homes, I saw how freely they lived.  Their windows were open (except during typhoon watches!).   If they had more than one family car, with the narrow driveways and streets leading to the homes, they often left their cars parked outside the gates on the street. They shopped in the open local markets for vegetables and fruit—something the military had cautioned as unhealthy.  The women got their haircuts at the local one-room, one-chair hair salons on every corner.

Within a few weeks, I had flung open my doors to enjoy the experience there.  Sunbathing on the rooftop.  Walking downtown alone to shop, leaving driveway gates open and doors unlocked.  Watching my Filipino neighbors grill a pig outside on our adjoining patio.  Driving freely to work at the other end of the island with no fear for my safety.

What made the change from “closed up tight” to “open for business” in this situation?

  • Feeling safe
  • Seeing others operate freely in the same environment
  • Absence of force
  • Internal motivation

So how do these same reasons apply to opening closed minds?

  • Feeling safe:   People open their minds to discourse when they feel emotional safety—when they trust others not to ridicule them for their viewpoints, beliefs, or values.
  • Seeing others operate freely in the same environment:   People open their minds as they see others discussing issues with an open mind—asking questions, listening to answers, considering other perspectives.  When they hear others whom they respect espouse differing beliefs, they see social proof that opposing viewpoints have merit.
  • Absence of force:   It’s human nature to meet force with force.  You push; the other person pushes back.  Logic rarely wins an argument.  Typically, the presentation of logic frames a debate.
  • Internal motivation:   People change their viewpoint or decide to do something for their reasons—not yours or mine.  Mentioning benefits and advantages often prompts them to adopt another viewpoint, take action, or change their behavior.

Consider opening a closed mind an inside job.

What thoughts can you add to this discussion?  Jot your notes in the Comments box below.

13 thoughts on “How to Open Closed Minds”

  1. I think most people would be cautious in a new environment like this. Then, once you see the way others live, it is easier for you to let go of your fears. Great story!

  2. Great analogy. I do get frustrated with close-minded people. And, I get frustrated with myself when I realize that I’ve been close-minded. I’ll keep these points in mind next time!

    Love your line: “Logic rarely wins an argument.” So true!

    Thanks for another great article!

  3. Dianna, indeed fantastic approach you took to put forth your point with your own personal story, where you yourself held a completely different view and had about turn in your own behavior. Instead of taking a logic based approach, you weaved what is called as Magic based approach (Dale Carnegie). And it is so much more effective. Thank you, as I have been missing the pro’s posts for a long while, I am in a catch up mode today :)

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