Why is it Important to be Open-minded?

“So, what does English research look like?”

I was sitting across from my friend, Andy, at Espresso the other day when he asked me this question.  The conversation had wandered to the topic of school, and I’d mentioned that for one of my English classes I would eventually have to write a 10- to 20-page research paper.  Andy, a Physics major who aspires to go to grad school and become a professor, inquisitively responded with the above question.  He quickly explained that he wasn’t doubting or discounting research within the English discipline, but that his world of String Theory and thermodynamics was so far from my world of literature that he genuinely didn’t know what my research would look like. 


I’m so happy that Andy asked me this question, because it demonstrates a trait that we can all strive to incorporate more into our lives: open-mindedness.  Being open-minded is something our parents and teachers taught us to do, something they told us to work on when we were being difficult or stubborn.  Sometimes being open-minded is easy, and sometimes it’s quite hard.  But what does being open-minded mean, and, more importantly, what does being open-minded look like, especially on a college campus?

In true English major fashion, I’ll start by providing a dictionary definition: the adjective open-minded means “willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced.”  I like this definition because it’s simple and concise.  But to really understand the depth that’s hidden beneath the simplicity, we need to ask ourselves what kinds of thoughts and actions correspond to such a definition.  This brings me to share, in my own opinion, what being open-minded looks like:

1. Being open-minded is trying new things.

A bit cliché but ever so true.  To be willing to consider new ideas, we have to expose ourselves to new things, whether they are extra-curricular, academic, cultural, etc., or some sort of combination.  Maybe it simply means inserting yourself into a conversation that you wouldn’t normally insert yourself into and seeing both what you can learn and what you can contribute.  (On that note: It’s on my graduation bucket list to attend one of the “Lunch On Us” sessions hosted by the various cultural and resource centers on campus.  Sounds like a really cool opportunity to enter into diverse discussions!)  

2. Being open-minded is seeking interactions with people who have personalities, interests, and talents different from our own. 

There are a lot of ways to do this, but the one that I’d like to emphasize is simply starting more conversations with people who have a different major than you.  It may not seem earth shattering to suggest this, but we can all benefit from it.  Branching out can help us avoid viewing someone’s major as a default categorization rather than a starting point for getting to know her.

So next time you’re at the bar or in your dorm or in that boring gen ed and you’re about to get caught up talking to your best friend, try saying hello to the girl who’s a mutual friend that you don’t run into as often, who studies something you don't know as much about.  Get a glimpse into her life, and then let her get a glimpse into yours.  You might just make a new friend! 

3. Being open-minded is, ultimately, asking questions. 

Think back to when you were a kid and you had a boatload of questions about everything and raising your hand in class was a big deal.  Channel that youthful spirit and bring it into your life again!  Be curious.  Be bold.  Be genuine and sincere and, if necessary, make it known that the question is coming from a good place, like my friend, Andy, did.  It makes all the difference.  


Andy happily and attentively listened to my quick summary of literary criticism and analysis in answer to his question.  He even asked follow-up questions–“so in physics we have the whole hypothesis-experiment-conclusion set-up; how does it work for you?”­–which I really appreciated and also kept the conversation going.  Andy’s genuine interest in hearing about what I do as an English major meant a lot to me.  In an environment as competitive as a college campus, it’s important that we're able to step outside of ourselves and support one another, no matter our disciplines.  At the end of the day, we’re all just looking to get a degree and see what we’re made of.  Having an open-mind about that process and the people we meet along the way is only going to shape our experiences for the better.