President Obama is meeting with resistance to some of his biggest and most daring plans for change. He repeats over and over that he is open to suggestions from all sides. When the Republicans balked at his current budget, he asked them to provide one of their own. They didn’t, and the reason comes down to closed minds versus open minds. Much of the opposition to change — and not just from the right wing — comes from a rigid mindset and clinging to the past.
It’s typical of a closed mind to defend itself. Whether it’s the right wing going back to Reaganomics, huge banks throwing a fit over regulation, or Wall Street resisting any interference with inflated bonuses, there’s a stubborn resistance to change. The issues involved, even the principles being espoused, are beside the point. What a closed mind always wants to protect is its right to be closed.

I’m impressed by the phrase “the tyranny of dead ideas,” which is also the title of a new book by business journalist Matt Miller. His topic is economics, and the dead ideas he examines are on the order of “Your company should take care of you” and “Your kids will earn more than you do.” Some dead ideas protect us from painful truths, in this case, the truth that companies won’t take care of you and maybe your kids won’t earn as much as you do. But painful or not, dead ideas blind us to reality and close our minds to change.
Here, then, are some ways to get in touch with reality in the fastest and most efficient way, which is to renounce those habits that close your mind.
1. Stop believing that you’re right. Examine the compulsion that forces you to be right all the time.
2. Don’t make every argument us versus them.
3. Be less attached to winning and more attached to the truth.
4. Don’t color every issue with morality. Right and wrong are generally useless when it comes to finding creative solutions.
5. Write down the five fundamental beliefs that guide your life. Now write down the best arguments against those beliefs.
6. When you are the most emotional about any issue, assume that you are blinding yourself. An open mind is calm, centered, flexible, and tolerant of opposing views.
7. When you are thinking of saying an idea that you know came from someone else, let go of it.
8. Most people either automatically agree or automatically disagree. Examine this trait in yourself and give it up.
9. Be aware of how you feel before you speak. Feelings are closer to the truth than words.
10. Walk in someone else’s shoes before you judge them.
These are lifelong lessons, and yet they’re worth learning today, this very minute. To be in the company of open-minded people is to breathe freer air. Being in the company of the passionately convinced is to suffocate. It’s tempting to grab the common coin of opinion and spend it like real money. Right now common opinion says, among other things, greed got us into this mess, the credit system is frozen, Wall Street destroyed the economy, bonuses are evil, the national debt is going to cripple our children and grandchildren. Yet these are all false coins, the tokens of second-hand thinking, received opinion, and the refusal to think for oneself.
I’m not saying these opinions are wrong. There’s a different point: If you stick a fixed idea in your head, you’ve effectively closed your mind. Speaking personally, I had accepted the fixed notion that the credit system was frozen. You hear this every day, and nobody seems to contradict it. Yet I subsequently read an analysis that concluded that American banks loaned more in the last quarter of 2008 than the year before. If true, it paints a more complex picture, one closer to reality. AIG has become the poster child for the evil of retention bonuses, but then I read a letter in the New York Times from an AIG employee who points out that his bonus had nothing to do with credit default swaps but with work he did to help the company get out of those toxic swaps (and repay the company’s bailout loan). Again, the reality and the fixed notion don’t fit.
A Sunday morning pundit remarked that the economic crisis is going through the six stages of grief. We started with denial, and now we’re on to anger, with the next stage, bargaining, on the horizon. I believe we’re in a much simpler place. We’re deciding whether to face reality or not. After a long period of economic delusion and reactionary ideology, our only hope is to face reality. But we can’t do that and cling to a closed mind at the same time.
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle
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