The Vulnerability of Having an Open-Mind


“Are you open-minded?” That all depends on how the question is asked. If it is being asked in that narrow definition of open-mindedness that the modern interrogators ask the question, the answer is no. I do not march in lockstep with the open-minded. I do not adhere to those that clear space on their mantle for the self-imposed characterization.

vacuum_cleaner_salesman_webHow many times has a purveyor of open-mindedness been shocked by the outcome of events that may have been more obvious to them if they reserved a space of critical judgement? How many times have they ever realized, too late, that they should’ve been more skeptical? How much room do the open-minded reserve for critical analysis of those that are considered correct in their approach? How many of the open-minded believe that if more people were like them, they could hold hands and transmit a telepathic message to Washington to knock it off with all the partisanship? What’s the definition of open-minded, and what could possibly be wrong with it?

How many people listen to both sides of an issue before deciding how to view a specific matter? I’m not talking about allowing space for the other side to speak, I’m talking about listening to them and processing what they say? I’m talking about those people that are so convinced the other side is wrong that they won’t hear the other side, because it’s not about one side versus the other anymore. It’s now about virtue and serenity versus an evil dystopian future that will permit slaughtering small children in the streets for day. I’m not talking about people that have a simple disagreement on a partisan issue, I’m talking about those people that start a rant and finishes with a cherry atop the pie that prompts the question: “Is everything all right, at home?”

I’m talking about those that are so susceptible to partisan propaganda, from their side, that they’re vulnerable to deception. I’m talking about these people being the open-minded among us, and their questions regarding the open-mindedness of those around them.

Most objective thinkers will admit that they’re not immune to deception, but they think that being open-minded provides them a better shield against deception than anything anyone else has come up with yet.

I’ve run into very few people that will openly admit that they only read articles from writers on their side. To the others, I ask: “What is the ratio?” If a person reads 100 articles favorable to their point of view to one from the other side, they are probably not open-minded. We all strive for the vaunted 50/50 ratio, but that’s just not very realistic for most of us. Most of us prefer certain writers over others, because those writers speak to us on a certain level. The question is why? Do they speak to a worldview that we have based on our upbringing, or are some presentations simply more entertaining? Psychologists would tell us that those writers we prefer, feed into our confirmation bias better than others, and the others are representations of the other side that we read simply to stay informed.

Is there a truth that is somewhere down the middle? Most salesmen want you to believe this, because they want to convince you that they are different, they are somewhere in the middle, and that the product they are offering you is something different. “This time,” they will say, “it will all be different.  I know what you’ve read about vacuums, but this one’s different.” Even though most of the evidence we have suggests that this vacuum is not different, the idea that this product is new and improved enchants us to the point that we decide to, at least, listen to this urgent young man’s charismatic presentation.

Some political commentators speculate that most people are not political, and that these people don’t prejudge a politician based on the fact that they have a D, or an R, following their name.  These commentators will tell their audience that most people are more interested in problem solvers than they are in the idea that one ideological philosophy is superior to another, and that they are less susceptible to sales pitches as a result. This idea that an open-minded individual doesn’t care who solves the problem as long as it’s solved is described, by these commentators, as the virtue of being open-minded.

Other political commentators, the partisan types, will tell their audience that it’s almost impossible for an informed individual to be nonpartisan in this day and age. These commentators will tell us that other commentators, and politicians, want to keep us open-minded, so that we are more open to ideas that have failed every time they’ve been tried. A closed minded person, in this sense, will inform anyone they know that they know their history, and that they haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that this time it will be any different. For most closed-minded people, these salesmen are guilty until proven innocent. Closed-minded people may leave some room to be convinced, but invading that narrow space will be a herculean task for any salesman seeking to prove them wrong.

There are exaggerations of both sides of the aisle, exaggerations most political scientists call extremes. There is the extreme left, and the extreme right, and the open-minded will inform us that the faults of these extreme positions are what drives them to being an independent, nonpartisan type. The open-minded, independent, nonpartisan types think that the extremes of any position seek party domination, as opposed to solving problems. The one thing that the open-minded, independent, nonpartisan types fail to consider is that both parties have methods of solving problems that are characteristic to their party, and those methods usually suit a voter’s worldview better than the other. The solution is to study party platforms, and pay attention to the methods that each party employs to solve problems, and find out which method is most appealing. Ignoring these facets of the parties, and remaining extremely open-minded on the issues, causes confusion, and greater susceptibility to demagoguery.

The closed-minded, partisan types are generally regarded as the more stubborn of the two, but in some cases –when history suggests that the actions being proposed have never proven successful before– couldn’t it be said that the open-minded people are the ones remaining stubbornly open-minded by disregarding the facts?

Most people will disagree with the notion that having an open-mind can ever equate to being uninformed, or stubborn, but the closed-minded would inform a listener that having an open-mind can lead one to being more susceptible to a salesman’s short-term fixes regardless what historical experience with these matters has shown to be the long-term consequences of such actions.

Talk to any veteran salesman and they will tell you that the most valuable product in any sales transaction is the salesman. The pièce de résistance in sales is to get someone to buy something that they don’t want. The old saying about a brilliant salesman is, “He can sell sand in a desert.” It’s a great compliment to a salesman, but what does it say about that person that buys the sand? They’re the ones that are open to the idea that they need a new vacuum, even though they’re perfectly happy with the one they currently own.

The key to approaching the salesman that comes knocking on your door, is knowing the difference between the short-term fix the salesman details, and the long-term consequences of purchasing the product he’s selling.

“Hey, if there’s a better product out there, that can make my life a little easier, I’m all ears,” the open-minded will say as this urgent, young man unveils the virtues of ‘the latest and greatest’ vacuum on the market.  All we have to do is listen, right? Keep an open mind. Before we know it, we end up with this ‘latest and greatest’ vacuum on the market that somehow, and in some ways, doesn’t quite work as well as our old, hunk o’ junk vacuum. This leads to what is called buyer’s remorse, and we don’t really remember how it happened, but it was so hard to turn this charismatic, urgent young man down once he got knee-deep into his pitch.

Salesmen take advantage of open minded people all the time. Their pitch comes equipped with horror stories regarding the other guys’ vacuums. They will paint a black and white picture of all those that struggle with the other company’s vacuum. Those owners, they’ll say simply don’t know the virtues of this ‘latest and greatest’ vacuum, and these virtues involve a lexicon that we may not be well-versed in, but trust them it means that their product is superior. Most people don’t know that lexicon, and most of those people are sticking with their hunk o’ junk vacuums. They’re the closed-minded sort that no one wants to have an association. The salesman may include some historical facts in their pitch to reveal the other company’s customer base, and they will assure their prospective customers that they will experience something different with the ‘latest and greatest’ product, because of who we are and what we do, and we’re one of the compassionate types that abhor human suffering. And if we’re not suffering, with all the advantages we have in life, millions of our neighbors could be, and who are we to stand in the way of the progress to the latest and greatest products known to mankind?

Does the open-minded person ever turn around and say, okay purchasing that vacuum was a mistake? All of the evidence was there, but I chose to overlook it while listening to the ‘this time it will be different’ pitch. Most of the open-minded people were perfectly happy with their vacuum, but they felt their heart was in the right place when they gave this urgent and charismatic young man a chance to state his case. The stubbornly open-minded clung to their open-minded label, in other words, until it was too late.

The one opportunity a consumer is afforded to thwart the theoretical rhetoric of all sales pitches, from all sides, is to gain personal experience. Some companies offer a 30-day trial, but the consumer isn’t usually informed of this option until the salesman begins to believe that the sale is getting away from him. It doesn’t matter if a consumer is open-minded, if they get to experience the difference between the cost and benefits firsthand, and they no longer have to speculate in an open-minded, or stubbornly closed-minded, “just the facts ma’am” manner.  It doesn’t matter how skilled, or crafty, a salesman is, and all of his superlatives go out the window when a consumer is allowed hand’s on knowledge of what’s in the product before they buy it. This is a last-ditch effort for a salesman, of course, because it makes them irrelevant in the transaction.

I understand the disclaimer “Past performance is not indicative of future results,” but when those that study results state that the most recent ‘latest and greatest’ approach mirrors those that have been attempted hundreds of times, and that the success rate is so close to utter and complete failure, how could that not affect the approach open-minded consumers offer the next charming, good looking, and well-spoken young salesman that steps to their door with a sparkly vacuum?  

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