Open Minded… Or Mindless?

The expression open-minded seems to confuse many people. While I argue for open-mindedness with certain people, they speak back to me in a rather dismayed tone and only when I dig deeper into their understanding of the word, do I start to see what they mean. Open mindedness is so often confused with the word decadence. If a girl is “open minded”, in the narrow minded sense, it means she is a heavy drinker and smoker, she dresses a little too immodestly and has too many male friends!

Open mindedness is about opening your mind; it’s as simple as that. Heard the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well that’s what we’re talking about.  How many times have you seen someone sitting at a table next to you in a cafe and because of they way they look, assumed everything about their life and character? How many times have you judged a restaurant by the kind of cutlery it uses instead of by the food it serves? How many times have you avoided going into a shop because it looked intimidating? All these examples are instances of narrow mindedness, of pre-judging something.

The difference between being open-minded and closed-minded is, at least to me, obvious. The term open-minded does not refer to someone who is willing to try anything for the sake of diversity or open-mindedness. Likewise, someone who is closed-minded does not necessarily mean that the person can’t try new and different things. The root word is mind. Someone who is open-minded will look at all the sides of an issue and make an educated decision based on the facts. Closed-minded people attempt to push their views on others and are not willing to see the other view.

I once read about a film experiment which showed how people have pre-conceived ideas ingrained in their subconscious. This is an interesting experiment which shows how an audience is tricked into believing what it wants to believe simply through some editing techniques.

This effect was noted and articulated by Soviet director and film theoretician Lev (Leo) Kuleshov, who was appointed head of the newsreel section at the Moscow film studios early in the post-revolutionary period. Around 1919, Kuleshov began a series of editing experiments which led to an interesting discovery (in what has become known as the “Mozhukhin Experiment”).

In separate sequences, shots of various objects (a bowl of soup, a dead body, and a smiling child), were put together against identical archive clips of a famous actor (Ivan Mozhukhin). Ivan Mozhukhin, deliberately showing his face at its most inexpressive and vague, and had three prints made of it. Kuleshov then joined the first print to the shot of a bowl of soup standing on a tabletop. The second he joined to a shot of the man’s corpse lying face down on the ground and the third to the one of a smiling child. He put all 3 shots, one after the other and projected them to an unprepared audience.

The audience read a different meaning into Mozhukhin’s expression with each combination. Every one of them declared his admiration for Mozhukhin’s talent for “expressing so marvellously, one after another, the feelings of hunger, pain, and warmth.” Since Mozhukhin had in fact expressed nothing of the kind, Kuleshov had proved that the audience was seeing things which did not actually exist. In other words, they expected to see Mozhukhin make a hungry face when there was a bowl of soup in the picture. They expected to see pain when there was a dead body in the same frame and they expected to see a warm expression when a smiling child appeared in the frame. No one realised that the actor did not change his expression; it was the same shot 3 times.

So many of us see what we want to believe and then believe what we don’t see? Are you confused yet? The bottom line is, open your mind and don’t be prejudiced. Just because someone carries books, doesn’t mean they’re bright. Similarly, just because someone can’t afford books, doesn’t mean they’re stupid.  Open-mindedness should mean you have the ability and are willing to examine ideas and issues without prejudice in order to form an opinion, or to re-examine your opinion in light of new evidence. It is the doorway that enables us to entertain ideas to form an enlightened opinion that we can stand up for.

Both closed-minded and open-minded people have opinions. The difference is how they have arrived at their opinions and what they do when their opinions are challenged. If being open-minded means that I have to try everything at least once, then I never want to be called open-minded.  Open-minded simply means you will listen to other opinions in a respectful manner. I can’t push my belief structure on anyone; I can only hope to be an influencer. Moral of the story: observe as objectively as possible before you judge.

Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

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