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Poser's avatar

Where is the line between open-minded and wishy-washy?

Asked by Poser (7789 points ) May 23rd, 2011

I like Fluther (although I often have to limit visiting because I have things I have to do that don’t involve hours upon hours of Fluthering) in part because I find my views being challenged on a regular basis, by generally intelligent, logical, civil people who often have very different views than mine.

I have been in lots of debates about lots of topics, and I have really, really strong opinions. But I find myself questioning my ideas a lot when I am on Fluther. I think challenging one’s opinions is a great thing, and something everyone should seek to do on a regular basis. But it is uncomfortable, and I think that is why people avoid it.

My question is where is the line between having a truly open mind, where you are not afraid to have it changed, and being staunchly opposed to any change in perspective? There are those who will support any viewpoint from any slick-tongued sophist, and those whose beliefs are so ingrained that they can’t (or will never) see reason.

Where is the line?

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23 Answers

ETpro's avatar

Humm, Gee—I dunno!

Zaku's avatar

Either term is a label, which someone may choose to apply to themselves or others.

Sometimes I think people get labeled “wishy-washy” simply out of upset hope that someone will commit to a position.

YARNLADY's avatar

There is no such line. The evaluation is entirely in the mind of the reader.

jerv's avatar

As @YARNLADY says, the line is in the imagination of the person that wants to slap a derogatory label on you. For instance, I cause a lot of hate and discontent and and have been called wishy-washy because I am neither a tree-hugging Communist nor a hawkish uber-Capitalist. Does that actually make me non-committal as some would claim? Am I weak because I listen to what others have to say and may even concede that they make valid points?

I don’t see there actually being a clear line nor any objective standard about where it should be placed, so I must conclude that it’s merely a figment of someone’s imagination.

Hibernate's avatar

No one can say truly that another is narrow minded or very open minded.

Oh and @Poser you could visit fluther like me. 5 minutes about 3–4 times per day and don’t read all posts because you won’t have time ^^

jerv's avatar

@Hibernate I use my Droid X to access Fluther during my breaks at work.

Hibernate's avatar

I said that because there are people who spend more than 4 hours per day reading :P

augustlan's avatar

I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to be open to changing your mind based on new knowledge, but it should have sound logic/supporting facts behind it for it to really be enough to shift your views. Sometimes, even other opinions (sans facts) can be enough to do it, if you’ve simply never thought of something in that way before, and now that you have, it makes sense to you.

So, I guess for me, changing your mind based on the above is being open-minded, but also being a critical thinker. Changing your mind simply because you don’t know yourself well, or because your position is unpopular, or because some slick talker confuses you, or in order to garner votes/favor/other benefits? That seems wishy-washy at best, and maybe even devious.

Poser's avatar

@augustlan: Awesome answer. I think I will agree with you from now on!

@Hibernate: My problem is that once I log on, and can’t ever leave. No willpower, you see.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Plato and a platypus walk into a bar. The bartender looks puzzled. He asks Plato, “What’s up with you and…”, nodding his head towards the platypus. “She looked a lot better in the cave,” Plato replied.

Hibernate's avatar

@Poser you need to train your will so it will obey you.

Sometimes I get stuck in a lot of things but after a while I’m able to stop doing it.

Ron_C's avatar

I just can’t make up my mind as to where I shoul draw the line. Oh, I’m so confused!

BarnacleBill's avatar

Perhaps the answer lies in understanding why you believe what you believe in the first place. There’s a big difference between being open minded and understanding where other people are coming from, and dropping your own beliefs and assuming the perspective of another as your own. Just because you explore the perspective of others and can see the validity in it, doesn’t mean you’re wishy-washy.

Society has traditionally functioned on a model of critical thinking and argument, with one side being right and the other being wrong; someone has to “win.” But as society evolves, it’s becoming less important to win, and more important to do the correct thing. We are often handed our beliefs by our parents, who were handed them by their parents. Growing up, believing exactly as our parents do or our friends do, and there is safety in the acceptance of being part of the flock. For many people, something happens along the way that causes them to question what they’ve believed, and that’s a good thing. It can be uncomfortable but examination is beneficial. Usually it happens when people go away to college and are asked to write papers and critically examine ideas. (You don’t get this from multiple choice tests.) Learning to write papers teaches you how to examine ideas.

Each person is entitled to their own opinions. Unfortunately, many people are raised in households where parents expect you not to question your upbringing. What is true is often not your world as you know it.

starsofeight's avatar

That line is here on Fluther.

snowberry's avatar

I have pretty much already developed an idea about many things I’ve encountered here at fluther. I have already formed opinions about certain things. About other stuff I can’t be bothered to answer or have no opinion. I do have an open mind about things, but I’m not going to be swayed by a few comments (or even a long thread) on Fluther. It might take me a year or more of looking, researching, and talking to other people who I know in “real life” for me to change my opinion.

robmandu's avatar

There’s a third option: reserving judgment. That’s when you choose not to choose until it’s necessary to decide.

To me, open minded means that you’re willing to put yourself in situations that challenge your opinions, beliefs, and preconceptions, like many on Fluther try to do. One excellent way to do that is to take up and defend the opposite argument of what you currently believe.

Wishy washy then would mean to me that someone changes their opinion back and forth on whim or light evidence. It could also be, when faced with the moment when action must occur, that they abdicate their choice altogether in hopes someone else will decide for them, that is, reserving judgement… taken too far.

wundayatta's avatar

Changing your mind because someone is good at rhetoric shows a person really doesn’t think for themselves. Refusing to change your mind because, well, that would be too threatening pretty much also shows that a person doesn’t think for themselves.

Having an open mind is a good sign that a person thinks for themselves. Listening to others and changing your mind only if there are reasons that are supported by evidence and duplicatable is probably the most effective way to think about propositions.

Many people are ill-equipped to be skeptical. They are either completely credulous or close-minded. There are relatively few of these people. In between those poles, people have different thinking skills. Their thinking skills depend on level of education and amount of knowledge.

There is no line between these different ways of thinking. They are only points on a continuous spectrum. I could draw a line that divides humanity into thirds or any other grouping, and then I’d have a line. But would that tell us much that is useful?

I believe we should question everything (well, except me—you should take everything I say as incontrovertible truth). If we are all skeptics, the world will be better off. It is dangerous to accept anything without at least some questions.

crisw's avatar

Here’s how I see it.

If you are open-minded, you investigate new ideas and see if they are factually and logically supportable. If they are, then you’ll accept them.

If you are wishy-washy, then you don’t apply such a structured process to what you believe, and you may accept what anyone tells you as fact.

BeckyKytty's avatar

Oh geeze, I really can’t make up my mind on that…

Kardamom's avatar

That amazing answer given by @augustlan is the reason that she is the Community Manager here on Fluther. That answer sums up practically everything there is to know about anything, Fluther-wise or otherwise.

That is probably the most perfect answer I have ever seen. : ) A billion lurve to you, my friend.

incendiary_dan's avatar

“Can’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out.”

linguaphile's avatar

I find it fascinating that this thread and this one talk about a similar concept—but in a completely different tone from a different angle. Interesting!

mattbrowne's avatar

Being open minded can include doing some reality checks so that we can draw a line.

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