How to Learn Openness

Openness is a soft skill that enables you to listen to opinions you don’t like and still consider their validity.

Learning to be open to the opinion of someone you disagree with is impossible until you learn to master your defensive emotional trigger response.  

When we are faced with an opinion we don’t agree with, our typical response is to become emotional. Rather than listen carefully to the merits of an argument, we immediately invalidate everything the person is saying and shut down our mind to receiving new information. The more strongly we disagree with the person’s opinion – or the person generally – the more quickly we will become triggered and willfully ignorant to what they have to say. 

Mastering your trigger response requires practice and that practice has to come from putting yourself in situations where you can be triggered. Fortunately, today’s political climate gives us countless opportunities to trigger ourselves and learn how to control our responses. For example:

  • If you lean towards the liberal viewpoints, watch in-depth interviews of intelligent conservative thinkers.
  • If you lean towards conservative viewpoints, watch in-depth interviews of intelligent liberal thinkers.

The interviews will have to be lengthy so that you have a chance to do the following:

  • Experience the initial shock of hearing an opinion you strongly disagree with.
  • Notice your mind closing off to hearing anything else the person has to say.
  • Allow yourself to calm down as you continue to watch the interview.
  • As you become calmer, pay attention to the arguments being made.
  • After the end of the interview note which arguments your thought had merits.

Ultimately, any sufficiently complex problem will generate many opinions on how to solve it. These solutions will tend to separate themselves into groups, as we tend to pick sides whenever there is a disagreement. While in a particular group, we hear opinions that mirror our own and therefore feel validated into thinking that we are right and the other side is wrong. This has far more to do with the social dynamics of tribal human behavior than the merits of the problem being discussed. Learning to overcome these tribalistic instincts is the essence of leaning openness.

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