Wise individuals express that they approach life situations and issues with an open mind (Taylor, 2010, 2015). This claim was made not only by the participants, in my research studies on wisdom, but also by their nominators who witnessed the participants’ wise actions. Being wise and having an open mind can easily be conceived as behaviours that go hand-in-hand with each other. Yet it begs the question for the majority of us: What does it mean to have an open mind?
I begin by offering that the wise individuals I worked with, all proved to be self-aware individuals. For example, Edward, a participant in my master’s research, professed: “You have to know a lot about yourself…you have to be very self-aware in terms of your strengths and your limitations” (Taylor, 2010, p. 57). In general, these research participants report spending a good deal of time getting to know themselves. They reflect on their daily actions, examining both their successes and failures. They also attempt to live authentically by continuously scrutinizing their beliefs, and aligning them with their daily actions. These wise individuals approach life situations with a clear understanding of their own knowledge, biases, and limitations. Knowing themselves well, means they work at becoming personally and consciously aware.
According to Ornstein (1972), “our personal consciousness is extremely limited” (p. 17). Due to the economy of our minds, Ornstein suggests we construct our consciousness from filtered input. Hodgkiss (2001) agrees, and credits the French philosopher, Henri-Louis Bergson, with identifying a mechanism whereby our minds function as a “reducing valve,” preventing us from being overwhelmed by all perceptions. Hodgkiss tells us, we engage in a process called “perceptual filtering.” This process ensures that we register or remember only an extremely small proportion of all the information we see or hear. To protect ourselves from the barrage of daily information received by our sensory organs and to make meaning of our world, we unconsciously filter and reduce irrelevant material. We select what we need from our environment, and what supports our personal world view.
We have all experienced this concept of selective filtering. For example, a newly pregnant woman might suddenly notice how many other women around her are also pregnant. Or, should you decide that your next car will be a Mustang, all of a sudden you become aware of how many Mustangs are on the road. Walsh (1999) offers that, “perception is not a passive process but rather is an active creation” (p. 200). We are constantly creating our own reality. No wonder no two of us sees the world in quite the same way. The more we are aware that we each live with filtered information, the more capable we become of seeing things from multiple perspectives.
Wise individuals report being open to others’ perspectives. Tessa, a participant in my doctoral research noted, “you have that ability with consciousness to consider others” (Taylor, 2015, p. 150). Consideration of others and their differences comes with an acceptance that we are each self-constructed, a product of our environments, cultures, experiences, and most importantly the personal lens through which we filter information.
The origin of our personal lens remains a mystery. Is it a product of nature, nurture, or both? Why does one individual tend to view most things with a positive focus, whereas another individual can experience the same situations negatively? Why can one individual recall ten items they saw on a table, another only six? Why do witnesses at the same crime scene report different stories? For this exercise, the why is not important, it is the mere recognition that perspectives differ from person to person.
I suggest, we have the ability to develop an open mind. It begins with our own self-awareness. By fully acknowledging our capabilities and limitations, as wise individuals do, and recognizing that in part, our reality is self-created through our minds filtering systems, we stand a chance of recognizing that each and every one of us holds a unique world view. Consequently, we are better able to recognize that our perspective is not the one and only true perspective. It is but one of many. With this acknowledgment, we are likely able to be more respectful of others’ opinions and perspectives. In turn, this will allow for the possibility of approaching situations with an open mind resulting in a new way of experiencing life; perhaps experiencing life just a little wiser.
Hodgkiss, P. (2001). The making of the modern mind: The surfacing of consciousness in social thought. New York, NY: The Athlone Press.
Ornstein, R. E. (1972). The psychology of consciousness. San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman and Company.
Taylor, C. E. (2010). The experiential process of acquiring wisdom: How wise individuals report learning life lessons (Unpublished master’s thesis). Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada.
Taylor, C. E. (2015). Wisdom as a social phenomenon: An inquiry of wise acts and wise practices (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada.
Walsh, R. (1999). Essential spirituality: The 7 central practices to awaken heart and mind. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.