Please help me not become my parents
March 23, 2007 10:16 AM   Subscribe

How can I keep from calcifying my beliefs and becoming like most of the actual adults that I know?

As I approach the ancient age of 30 I am beginning to notice that my beliefs and opinions are becoming more and more set in stone. I do a fair bit of reading and metafilter is good for new sources of information, but it doesn't seem enough. I don't want to end up longing for NBC's Thursday night line up.
posted by khaibit to Grab Bag (47 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Travel to places you've never been before.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:21 AM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Watch more Colbert/Stewart.
posted by phaedon at 10:22 AM on March 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Keep doing new things and meeting new people.
posted by MsMolly at 10:23 AM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hmm, that's interesting. I am experiencing the exact opposite.

I imagine that it's because I am forcing myself to interact with people who aren't *just like me*. If you are consistently challenged by differing opinions/thoughts/ideas it seems harder to have a "set in stone" set of beliefs.

Perhaps you can throw yourself into a den of people who are likely to have beliefs other than your own and see how it goes?
posted by FlamingBore at 10:24 AM on March 23, 2007

But NBC's Thursday night line up is fun...

Anyways, you can read books that are opposite your view point but well argued, you can read websites that present things from opposing view points, you can do things that make you feel uncomfortable. You can read the "letters to the editor" and try to understand the viewpoints of the writers. You can read craigslist's rant section.

You can put yourself into positions to meet as many new people as possible. You can get involved in the community. You can actively try to learn a new language.

For me, some of the most eye opening things have come from helping tutor someone in learning English.
posted by drezdn at 10:26 AM on March 23, 2007

This seems like philosophical question to me. Are you saying that its best to keep changing your beliefs? Arguably, thats a good tactic when you are young and thrown tons of information, but as you age you discard the obvious crap and eventually the cream will reach the top. Maybe the beliefs you currently have are the products of much research, thinking, and soul searching. Maybe its for the best to let them set into stone. Is 30 years of work worth dismissing? Unless you think your current beliefs are simply wrong, then you should consider the validity of aged wisdom and see if you truly need to start dismissing parts of yourself wholesale because you fear settling into a long-term persona.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:28 AM on March 23, 2007

I think you have nothing to worry about. The mere fact that you dare ask yourself these kinds of questions is proof that you are unwilling to have your life rules set in stone. Others don't give it a second thought. If you force yourself to change, the results might feel wooden and cold, because they are the result of wanting to change, not inherent changes of yourself. So this might be another case of "The only way to clear a muddy pool is by leaving it alone". What strikes me though is that you mention your parents in the heading. Maybe that points you towards some unfinished business?? Good luck. PS: I'm 40, and I enjoy how some things/thoughts/beliefs settled down over the years.
posted by hz37 at 10:41 AM on March 23, 2007

You become more set in your beliefs because you've had a lifetime of practice lying to yourself. Treat everything you believe as a lie. Demand proof.
posted by GuyZero at 10:42 AM on March 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Don't watch more Colbert/Stewart.
posted by wfc123 at 10:44 AM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

So get rid of your tv and start doing things with your time that are creative/productive rather than passively consumptive. Get into groups that allow you to share your creative stuff with others, and collaborate on projects. There is a great line in a David Mamet script that says something like "make your own fun; entertainment is something that other people make and you watch, but fun is something you make for yourself by doing things"

And, as others have said: Do things with others who aren't like you, and who aren't like the other people you know, and travel.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:45 AM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

You've had 30 years to figure things out, you're getting more set in your beliefs--maybe you're starting to be right more often?
posted by bluejayk at 10:46 AM on March 23, 2007

robert anton wilson has written some interesting stuff about the value and methods of keeping an open mind, particularly cosmic trigger I and prometheus rising which i think work well together. or, depending on what your beliefs are which are becoming set in stone, you could try taking more hallucinogens-- they seem to shake things up for a lot of people.
posted by lgyre at 10:48 AM on March 23, 2007

Best answer: It's not that it's best to keep changing your beliefs, it's that it is best to be able to retain the ability to change them at will. Which is like a muscle that needs to be worked out in order to keep it limber.

Find the soft spots in your logic, the avoidances that have you have come to regard as inseparable from your identity; then separate them-- if not permanently, at least for long enough to remind yourself that you exist beyond the routinesl likes/dislikes, and beliefs that have crystallized around you over time.

It is a constant effort for me. This is why I go through periods of fasting, periods of internet withdrawal, moratoriums on watching films or reading books, taking new routes to travel to familiar places, etc. Some have criticized it as a guilty ex-protestant self-denial pattern, but really it has been simply about exploring the boundaries of my self. What am I when all else is cut away? When I return to it, am I the same?

On the other hand, I also try to adopt skills or knowledge about various subjects that have no bearing on my life. For example, this year I began practicing martial arts, something for which I have never had the vaguest curiosity. Now I'm hooked on it. It has presented a change in what I know of myself that I am still adjusting to. In the same spirit have I taken up a musical instrument, learned to sew, donated time as a volunteer, etc. etc.

So I guess I recommend flexing this muscle more. Give up more. Take on more. Try not to focus so much on the details of what is taken on or given up. Some things will fade in a week, others will become lifelong interests or bring you into contact with individuals who have information you don't. Realize that it is all part of the alchemical process that, over time, burns away our inflexibility and our resistance tothe unfamiliar and unexpected.
posted by hermitosis at 10:51 AM on March 23, 2007 [20 favorites]

Keep on rockin'. Seriously.

More seriously, I find it helps to make a point of reading stuff or talking to people whose views you don't share, or find puzzling. At the least, this will hone your arguing skills. Also, talk to the kids, by which I mean old enough to be human (<16) but young enough to ride the zeitgeist. Yeah, under 30--sorry. But I'm an old fart of 39, so what the hell do I know.
posted by scratch at 11:00 AM on March 23, 2007

Treat everything you believe as a lie. Demand proof.

I think this is great advice, and it's more or less what I've been trying to do for the past year or so. I just turned 29, so I'm in more or less the same place as you. Interrogating your most deeply held beliefs can be very uncomfortable, but it will probably give you a better understanding of other people and a more nuanced view of the world. I've become deeply suspicious of rigid, dogmatic thinking in both myself and others. I think of it as the Bush Administration's lasting gift to me.
posted by 912 Greens at 11:04 AM on March 23, 2007

I always thought the rigidity of thought came from increased experience-based belief in your own judgement. There's actually nothing wrong with that, is there?

I mean, it's good to question things, but in some cases you just need to make up your mind and move on, perhaps with conditions under which you'll reopen consideration.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:13 AM on March 23, 2007

Challenge all of your beliefs, including your belief that calcification of your beliefs is undesirable.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:13 AM on March 23, 2007

Get a subscription to The New Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American, The Economist, Skeptic Magazine, and The New York Review of Books. Read them all. Read well-written and thoughtful novels from all over the world to put yourself in the mindset and lives of people unlike yourself. Read well-written and thoughtful nonfiction to familiarize yourself with situations, worldviews, facts, and methods of thought unlike your own. Go to art galleries. Travel. Realize that life is not about your possessions.
posted by matildaben at 11:20 AM on March 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

In order of importance:

1. Abandon your religion (and all others)
2. Travel abroad extensively (pref. to developing nations)
3. Read a lot (especially what the mainstream media wont print)
4. Understand that most of what you watch on TV in mainstream media is either perpetuation of mis-information by the mis-informed (well intended) or outright bullshit (premeditated).
5. Be receptive to information from all perspectives but always keep in mind the intentions and incentives of the informer.
posted by postergeist at 11:20 AM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't become one of those people who dismiss things they actually enjoy because they are popular. Some of the most closed-minded adults I've ever met were allegedly-liveral college professors who bragged about never owning a television.

It is important to know what the masses are enjoying. Even if it's just to know why you should make fun of them for it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:21 AM on March 23, 2007

Ditto by the way to most of the publications matildaben recommended though of course each has their editorial slant.. see rule 5.
posted by postergeist at 11:24 AM on March 23, 2007

I second the idea about finding friends of differing perspectives. I skew liberal, but I had a lot of friends in college who were conservatives. I still don't always agree with their opinions, but I think I understand better where they are coming from. I think some of my opinions are more moderate now. Having conservative friends also helped me understand that all conservatives are not crazy, evil, fundy nut jobs, as all my liberal family members and friends had led me to believe.
posted by bananafish at 11:27 AM on March 23, 2007

Best answer: I don't think there has to be a binary choice between "beliefs set in stone" and "Treat everything you believe as a lie. Demand proof." Most likely, your core views have increased in nuance over the years and that, I believe, is the true gift of aging.

For example: in my teens in the '80s, Operation Rescue was very big in the news, bombing abortion clinics, etc., and I completely disagreed with everything they stood for. I don't feel the need to annually revisit my beliefs about them; I'm not going to change my mind and join them. However, my view has gradually encompassed questions and opinions such as: What are their motivations besides the surface ones? Why are so many of the men involved caught in the transition between manufacturing jobs and the new economy? So while my instinct as a teen was "These people suck," as an adult it morphed into, "These people suck, here's some of the reasons they may have been drawn into this group, here's some of the reasons this group waned in popularity," etc.

I think the real danger as you grow older is the impulse to treat anything new with suspicion, hostility, or anger, thus dismissing it out of turn. This may stem from it not fitting into your existing patterns (I see this with my 78 year old mother who sometimes assumes that things she hasn't heard of are there to make her feel "stupid" and, actually, one of my sisters who will classify the unknown as "wierd").

Finally, as you get older, remember that you can work on your reasoning processes: Why do you accept/dismiss a concept? How did you come to that conclusion? Critical thinking skills and subtlety are the key to not becoming calcified.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:29 AM on March 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

How can I keep from calcifying my beliefs and becoming like most of the actual adults that I know?

Why don't you ask those adults you know?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:33 AM on March 23, 2007

As I approach the ancient age of 30 I am beginning to notice that my beliefs and opinions are becoming more and more set in stone.

You've gotten some great advice in this thread. All I have to add is this:

Know thy enemy. Cultivate awareness of your thinking patterns, the automatic dismissals, the knee-jerk responses, the silly cliches you have in your head. And when you catch these little memes in the act, interrogate them. "Wait a minute . . . How do I know how so-and-so thinks about this? I don't know him at all. I haven't had more than the most cursory of conversations with him. Maybe I should actually ask him how he thinks. And if I'm not comfortable doing that, maybe I should just stop making blind assumptions." "Why should I assume that her motive for doing that is x, y or z?"

Introspection and meditation can help you with this.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:37 AM on March 23, 2007

Well, what are your beliefs and opinions? I'm sure if you tell us what they are we can help inform you why they're wrong.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:38 AM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Avoid responsibility. Never take charge of anything. Rent, not buy, your living space. Shun exclusive monogamy in your romantic relationships. And above all, never, ever have children.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:41 AM on March 23, 2007 [4 favorites]

I am beginning to notice that my beliefs and opinions are becoming more and more set in stone.

Maybe that's the weight of the accumulated evidence starting to pile up.

Don't confuse a skeptic with a curmudgeon. You don't need to be so open-minded that your brains fall out.
posted by frogan at 11:43 AM on March 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

There's a well-known problem called confirmation bias: it's human nature to filter evidence through our existing beliefs. We pay more attention to evidence which reinforces our existing beliefs than to evidence against them. So over time our beliefs do indeed become set in stone, even if they're wrong.

To counteract this:

When you see evidence which supports your existing beliefs, be careful to check its veracity rather than blindly accepting it. Conversely, be careful not to dismiss or ignore evidence which contradicts your beliefs.

How can you check the reliability of a source of information, e.g. a particular commentator? To check what author A says about subject X--assuming that X is something I don't know much about--I find a number of techniques to be useful:
  • Check what A has to say about something I do know about. Same principle as checking the reliability of a telephone book by looking up your own listing.
  • Find out what other people have to say about X.
  • Find out what other people have to say about A's discussion of X--book reviews, for example.
The Internet and Google make it pretty easy to do this even for an author you've never heard of. If there's not much commentary available on-line, consider looking them up at your local library.
posted by russilwvong at 11:55 AM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

The same problem really bothered me, too.

My concrete advice: go to school. Even part-time.

At 34, I went back to school to finish my philosophy degree. I found that having to understand many different and sometimes opposing viewpoints in detail, and having to both rigorously defend and criticize these viewpoints, really built up and loosened the ol' brain muscle (the muscle that hermitosis refers to).

You will also be surrounded by lots of smart people with very different views about everything. It's humbling, and it forces you to grow in ways that you will really appreciate.

My concrete advice part II: smash your tv, ride your bike everywhere, stare at the clouds (not on your bike!), learn to draw.
posted by blisterpack at 11:56 AM on March 23, 2007

Go to a bar, meet new folks unlike you. Get in a friendly debate over politics/religion/whatever. Allow the other person to win you over as much as possible. Many people are hungry for a chace to do that. You can keep your point of view or not, but hear them fully out. Then buy them one!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:08 PM on March 23, 2007

Don't worry about changing to have new perspectives, just worry about always staying OPEN to them. It's when people close themselves off to the other, unfamiliar & previously unexplored possibilities of life that they begin to calcify.

Walls build. Minds close. And your world becomes small. Poof.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:23 PM on March 23, 2007

I dont think there's any way to do this in solitude. That is, I dont believe any amount of exercises or travel or whatever will help you. Those are seondary effects. I know well-traveled people who are extremely narrow in their views. The traveledness just allows them to further justify that they are not living in a shell - when in fact they are.

The thing about close-minded people is that they dont realize or acknowledge they are close-minded. But other people may call you on it. The trick is that if someone accuses you of being stubborn or narrow-minded or unswerving:

- Don't dig in your heels (the natural response) and think "What an idiot. Now I will slap them down to defend my honor and humiliate them in the process."
- Consider instead, if only in your head, that they may be right.
posted by vacapinta at 12:44 PM on March 23, 2007

Don't watch more Stewart/Colbert. I'm not American, but I download and watch those shows. One fine day, I met an American, and had a discussion about American politics with her. Her opinions were almost verbatim from what Stewart says. It was all the exact same topics with the exact same viewpoints. I was a bit shocked, as I assumed that people were capable of being more discriminating in choosing a philosophy, and do not just accept everything that a particular direction brings, just because it seems better.

Most Americans I have met are very democrat. They _think_ that they are the good guys, and for that reason, they never even consider that conservatives et al actually have some very good points going for them.

For the sake of argument, I like to point out the good that George Bush has done. This OUTRAGES these people, because they are just not exposed to opposing points of view.

If you want to stay flexible, do this. As soon as you feel strongly about something, immerse yourself in the opposite sides camp.

You like the green party? Pretend to be a republican for a year. You are for Israel? Visit only forums about palestinians, and argue on their site. You don't know about the Hmong? Find out about them, and hear both sides of the story. You think Darfur is the worst thing since the tutsi/hutu problem? Consider that maybe that's what the aid agencies want you to think so you spend money. You believe in HIV/AIDs, and scoff at the doubters? Read their arguments without judgment.

You think that Africa is covered with wars? Mention 5 places where there is an actual SHOOTING war in the year 2007 and that is in Africa.

The point is this - be sceptical of everything, and always check it up.
posted by markovich at 12:53 PM on March 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

Readily admit when you're wrong -- to others, but most importantly to yourself. If necessary, use humor to help you swallow your pride.
posted by joquarky at 1:14 PM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

First off (and OK, overgeneralizing quite a lot), the hardening of attitudes over time is a natural and necessary part of the learning process. An attitude is in essence a distillation of a whole bunch of learning, knowledge, and experience about a certain topic. If you didn't have any attitudes about anything at all, you basically would have to go about re-learning everything from scratch all the time and that wouldn't work too well.

So the question becomes, not whether you have attitudes or whether they become more set over time, but whether your attitudes become set quickly, moderately fast, or more slowly.

Some people's attitudes harden up rather quickly. Often in this case a certain period of life when attitudes become set becomes the model for the rest of the person's life. Often this is the teen-age or college years. A typical example is pop music--often the music listened to as a teenager becomes the preferred type of music for ever after.

This is referred to as the "impressionable years hypothesis".

In other cases, through continual exposure to a much wider range of ideas and opinion, continual study and learning (not necessarily formal, classroom type learning--just the type of learning your mind and body does natural if you let it), you can attain a much, much slower hardening of the attitudes on a particular subject. Preferences/opinions/attitudes are malleable early in life and only gradually harden throughout the entire lifespan.

This is known as the "aging stability hypothesis".

Obviously there are other ways attitudes, opinions, and preferences can develop over the lifespan (some, interestingly enough, seem to harden up in middle life but then be more susceptible to change in later life). You may follow one arc in one subject area (say, musical preferences) and another in a different area (say, political or religious preferences).

But here is what is interesting:

If your attitudes in a particular area are formed under the 'impressionable years' scenario, those attitudes are far more likely to be course-grained, inaccurate or incomplete, and limited to a certain sub-area of your area of interest.

On the other hand, if your trajectory follows the aging stability model--slow hardening of opinion over a very long period of time--you are far more likely to develop opinions and attitudes towards things that are more accurate, more complete, more detailed, and far more wide-ranging. The tradeoff, of course, is that it takes much longer to develop these more detailed & accurate attitudes.

So far I am just re-stating your question & point in more complicated terms. But my real point is, this way of thinking about it offers some specific ideas about how to keep your ideas/opinions/attitudes/preferences more open and slow down the inevitable hardening.

In particular, make a point to seek out & experience things you don't like, disagree with, things outside your normal realm of experience.

If you can't stand the thought of looking into ideas/music/art/people you just can't stand, how about starting with the ones you just moderately don't like and then work outwards.

Let's say you're politics are strongly democratic. Maybe you just can't stomach the idea of discussing politics with a right-wing republican. But maybe explore writings or ideas or conversations with people who are different shades of democrat than you. Or read a history of the republican party or a more objective analysis of their policies and ideas.

Or (and this is where it gets really more interesting and useful) take a look at the politics and political parties of other countries, or other periods of history, or other political systems. Look at how that whole political dynamic works in those systems that are completely different than ours. Look at how the various political ideas get to be "owned" by different parties or groups--often split up in very different way than we do. Look at how the political dynamic works in countries that have many different parties, not just two.

This is the key: These are ideas that get you out of the whole realm of the two-party system and dialectic that we tend to take for granted whenever we are thinking about our political beliefs.

I've used political beliefs as an example, but the same ideas go for religion, music, literature, culture, etc etc etc.

[Obviously I am overgeneralizing and over simplifying like mad, but still there is something to this. See some references & related articles at this google search.]
posted by flug at 1:18 PM on March 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

"Science is all about not fooling yourself, and you're the easiest person to fool" - Dick Feynman
posted by phrontist at 1:34 PM on March 23, 2007

You may also want to take the time to study not just new ideas about politics, ethics, etc., but also new frameworks through which to view those ideas.

Reading about (to the point of understanding) public choice economics has revolutionized the way I view public policy debates; it hasn't changed my ideology much, but it's changed the way I filter political information. Similarly, reading Rawls' A Theory of Justice didn't turn me to his point of view per se, but it gave me a new way of looking at ethics. I already believed in evolution when I read a couple of Dawkins' books on the subject (as well as a few creationist tomes), but he gave me a new way to look at the natural world. Philosophy, hard science, and economics theories are particularly good for this, but meta-politics books of good quality should also do the trick.

I'd also recommend that you keep reading things you disagree with, but focus on thinking about what kinds of questions you would ask the author and others who disagree (other than "are you an idiot?"). Try to figure out why other people believe what they do, and not only will it challenge your beliefs, it'll also make you a more tolerant, welcoming person. That in itself will make you less likely to become a crotchety old person. Plus, sometimes you'll actually like it. Confession: I have read all of the Left Behind books, and I think they are a really good science fiction story. But I never would have known that had I not set out to figure out what other people see in them.
posted by decathecting at 1:46 PM on March 23, 2007

I think another good thing is to realize that you will always learn more from people that disagree with you. Always be willing to listen and be proven wrong. Be open to changing your mind if something truly makes sense. Don't stop questioning things and yourself. Be willing to hear other sides and to possibly change your mind if it seems right. (Back to that whole "be open" thing I said earlier.)
posted by miss lynnster at 4:03 PM on March 23, 2007

So I'm 45. I never worried about "calcifying" because I always questioned myself. And, as time goes on and on, I have seen so many examples of when I made mistakes (and hopefully learned from them) that I don't assume automatically that I am correct. I know that I learn more by being wrong than by assuming I am right. This means that I have to be humble, listen to others, question myself, etc, etc.

As far as the Thursday Night Line-up, well, your parents are probably watching CBS. Or maybe FoxNews. :-/ And I'm watching ABC. Nothing wrong with that. Don't assume that a popular choice is a bad choice. Just remember that it isn't the only choice, and that you always have other options.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:37 PM on March 23, 2007

I'm not sure there's anything wrong per se with coming to a set of beliefs that work for you. As others have said here, being open to other beliefs is the important thing. That is, not dismissing other beliefs just because they're not the same as yours.

Contrary to advice given above, it's not necessary to abandon religion to remain open to other systems of belief. There are certainly people who end up this way, and as a religious believer who hasn't, I feel sorry for them.

Remaining skeptical is extremely important. I continually question my beliefs, and the beliefs of others. Sometimes that questioning results in adjustment in my worldview, sometimes in confirmation that what I believe works for me.

I think finding a worldview that works is one of a person's primary purposes in life. Like relationships, worldviews that work need maintenance and occasional adjustment, but once a suitable worldview is found, why seek to abandon it?
posted by lhauser at 4:47 PM on March 23, 2007

Memento mori.
posted by Abiezer at 5:02 PM on March 23, 2007

Seek out the originals. Watch The Office in its British form. Watch the Japanese movies which spawned all of the American remakes.
Find out what rock and roll was like before Presley. Read a screenplay before watching the movie, act it out in your mind and then see whether the actors did better or worse.

I give these examples because the thing it is the homogenized sameness of American culture that makes us calcified. Plugging into the vital will keep you vital.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:08 PM on March 23, 2007

*listen to NPR
*volunteer to help people who challenge your sensibilities and firmly held beliefs
*tutor at area public school
*visit the elderly
posted by peace_love_hope at 6:49 PM on March 23, 2007

all good advice. you shouldn't be afraid of developing an opinion or a set of beliefs. that's who you are. it sounds like what you're afraid of is not being able to receive new ideas and integrating them into your worldview. that the antenna, at some point, will fall off.

that's practice, i think (i say at the ancient age of 30). i think travel, especially a long visit to a very different culture, is a great way to do it. even learning a new language will help--nothing translates perfectly, so you'll have to develop new ways of understanding and finding meaning.

finally, realize that your kids will say this about you, because that's how they'll become their own people. it's okay.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:15 PM on April 1, 2007

occasionally, take a lot of drugs.
posted by 6am at 8:19 PM on April 1, 2007

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