The Virtue of Open-Mindedness
Open-mindedness is one of the essentials of recovery, with honesty and willingness part of the three indispensable principles of sobriety.
Traditionally considered an intellectual or cognitive virtue in that it governs the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, open-mindedness is the key to Step 2, where we abandon our biases and prejudices and become receptive to a Power that can transform us.
Its practice in AA is directed to the spiritual life and the search for spiritual truth, seen ultimately as the foundation of all truth.
Step 2 highlights its association with the virtue of humility, without which open-mindedness can easily devolve into its opposite.
[Image: Richmond Walker, early Boston AA member and author of “Twenty-Four Hours a Day.” See review of his book in Ray’s Book Reviews.]
“Since open-mindedness and experimentation are supposed to be the indispensable attributes of our ‘scientific’ civilization, it seems strange that so many scientists are reluctant to try out personally the hypothesis that God came first and man afterward.” – Bill W., in ABSI
“Faced with alcoholic destruction, we soon became as open-minded on spiritual matters as we had tried to be on other questions. In this respect alcohol was a great persuader. It finally beat us into a state of reasonableness.” – Big Book
“True humility and an open mind can leads us to faith, and every AA meeting is an assurance that God will restore us to sanity if we rightly relate ourselves to Him.” – 12&12
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”
– Marcus Aurelius
“I shall adopt new views as fast as they shall appear to be true views.”
– Abraham Lincoln
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau
“Let the mind be enlarged . . . to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind.” – Francis Bacon
“Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." – G. K. Chesterton
“’Dogs and cats should always be brought up together,’ said someone, ‘it broadens their minds so.’” – C. S. Lewis
“[L]isten to others, even the dumb and the ignorant; they too have their story.” – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata
“An open mind is not an end in itself but a means to the end of finding truth.”
– Peter Kreeft
“The most important quality for a judge is open- mindedness to the arguments.” – Samuel Alito
“If I feed and clothe my neighbor or enemy, but ignore, distort, or otherwise fail to ‘take seriously’ his deeply held beliefs, then surely I fail to embody the kind of love that Jesus commands. This suggests . . . that there are in fact distinctively Christian reasons to be open-minded.” – Jason Baehr
“A wise person knows there’s something to be learned from everyone.”
“To think that there is no truth or that no action is better than any other is not to be open-minded, but to abandon any attempt at rational discrimination. It is to shut down reason, rather than to pursue free inquiry.” – Montague Brown
“Because I did not feel used or conned by those in A.A., I was able to approach the program free from bias and with an open mind.” – A.A.'s Daily Reflections
“’I will not resist the impact of a new idea. It may just be the one I’ve needed without being aware of it. I will make my mind more flexible and receptive to new points of view.'" – One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
"Sometimes, when the going gets especially hard, we're tempted to follow the path of least resistance and live by our old ideas again. We forget that our old ideas were killing us. To live a new way of life, we need to open our minds to new ideas." – Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts
“A secular view of open-mindedness, however, carries a built-in exception where the virtue doesn’t apply. That exception is God and the spiritual realm. For many of us being open-minded and believing in God were mutually exclusive.” – PTP
“In asking us to open our minds to the spiritual experience of other alcoholics, Step 2 is asking us to admit to the possibility that we know less than we suppose, and that, perhaps, our ideas about God don’t necessarily correspond to reality.” – PTP
For more PTP passages on open-mindedness, see pp. 26, 29, 134–136. For more BB and 12&12 passages, click on www.164andmore.com and search "open." See also entries in As Bill Sees It. See also "Narrow-Mindedness," in "Character Defects" on this website.
1. “Open-mindedness,” entry in The One-Minute Philosopher, by Montague Brown
2. "Open-mindedness," chapter by Jason Baehr in Being Good: Christian Virtues for
Everyday Life, Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett, Editors
3. "Open-mindedness," in The Inquiring Mind: On Intellectual Virtues & Virtue
Epistemology, by Jason Baehr
For other posts on the virtues and the disciplines, please click on Practice These.