Anger’s Antidote: Getting In Touch With Your Inner Jerk

A recent discussion about Donald Trump’s hair (which fascinates me because it seems to defy the laws of physics and fashion) led to something more serious: there’s a lot of anger out there, which is maybe why Trump’s popularity increases when he says bigoted things about Mexicans, women, and others.

Anger is nothing new. But certain situations seem to draw it out. My mother asked me, Why are some people so angry when they’re driving, honking and flipping the bird? But when they’re walking down the street they seem friendly?

Perhaps it’s the question du jour. Not long after our discussion, Hank Garfield wrote an op-ed for the Bangor Daily News asking why there’s no pedestrian road rage. Hank’s conclusion:

The inside of a car straddles the line between public and private space; we’re on our best behavior in one but not the other. When you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you’re stuck, unlike pedestrians and cyclists, who can simply go around; impotence leads to frustration. Drivers can’t directly communicate with each other beyond easily misconstrued gestures; it’s easier to apologize or express good will face-to-face and on foot. Driving is stressful; walking releases stress. And so on.

In brief, it’s the lack of direct human contact when we’re in a car.

Thing is, we’re not as moral as we think. The self-serving bias is well documented, and apparently intractable. Morality is about how we treat others, and it’s socially enforced. In isolation (in a car, online, etc.) there’s no accountability, and our inner jerk has a greater opportunity to make an appearance.

And there’s more bad news. Anger spreads faster than anything else. A lot faster than joy, which takes a distant second place.

Why? It is because anger is a negative emotion? Sadness isn’t so popular, so that can’t be it. But anger is intense and energizing, unlike a downer like sadness. But joy also is intense and energizing, so why would joy fall so far behind?

In The Happiness Hypothesis Jonathan Haidt points to evolution. The consequences of finding food aren’t as significant as missing a predator. You can find more food, but if you’re dead you are food. Haidt cites research which finds that it takes five good things to outweigh one bad thing.

Humans no longer live in our evolutionary environment. We have few natural predators, and those that exist (such as bears and lions) are not an everyday concern. But being stuck in traffic, immobilized with no options, still triggers an unconscious fear.

Haidt writes:

Research shows that when we are under extreme time pressure, we are more likely to behave unethically. When we operate in isolation, we are more likely to break rules. When incentives are very steep (we get a big reward if we reach a goal, but much less if we don’t), we are more likely to try to achieve them by hook or by crook.

Plato’s story of the Ring of Gyges (from the Republic) is a great metaphor. Do people really value goodness, or merely the appearance of goodness? What if you had a magic ring that made you invisible? Would you use it like a superhero to defend the innocent? Or would the lack of accountability corrupt your best intentions until you became a totally selfish asshole?

Plato’s musings helped inspire J.R.R. Tolkein to write The Lord of the Rings. A wicked long answer to Plato’s questions. But such a fun answer!

The Internet is the Ring of Gyges, the one ring to rule them all. Another interesting study found that after five days offline, teenagers’ emotional awareness notably improved. Maintaining niceness requires social interactions with immediate emotional feedback from others.

Anonymous, invisible, and unaccountable on the Internet, it’s surprising that there aren’t more trolls out there. When I see an anonymous person kindly disagreeing with someone online I think, there’s a person of character.

A while back a friend told me about a book called Radical Honesty. AJ Jacobs interviewed its author, Brad Blanton, for Esquire. Blanton told Jacobs that “I appreciate you for apparently having a real interest and hope you’re not just doing a cutesy little superficial dipshit job like most journalists.”

Jacobs, of course, did a superficial dipshit job. He missed Blanton’s central point: radical honesty starts with admitting to ourselves all the stuff that we try so hard to deny. In contrast, being blunt with others without being blunt with ourselves just makes us bigger assholes.

So that’s one (though certainly not the only) antidote to anger: getting in touch with your inner jerk. Or as atheist Jonathan Haidt (channeling Jesus) more tactfully puts it, focusing on the beam in your eye and not the speck in your neighbor’s.

This doesn’t mean being down on yourself. That’s just a passive-aggressive gambit for attention. Granted, you’re not better than the average person. On the other hand, you’re no worse than the average person either.

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The Mask You Live In: A Documentary Review

The Mask You Live In is the second documentary by the Representation ProjectMask “follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity.”

Released in January 2015, it’s still hard to find in many places. But like its sister Miss Representation, Mask eventually will be available on DVD or streaming. The screening in my area was sponsored by a local organization called Maine Boys to Men, whose mission is to “support the happy, healthy, non-violent development of boys and those who help raise them.”

Mask hits the ground running with the gravelly voice of former NFL defensive lineman Joe Ehrmann, who remembers his father teaching him (at five years of age) to be a man – tough and stoic. And what Ehrmann details can only be described as child abuse.

Mask then informs us that gender is a social construct, noting that males and females psychologically are 90% similar. Of course, some may challenge the notion that gender is not biologically innate, but Mask is focusing on gender roles rather than gender identity.

Culture certainly looms large. The interviews with various psychologists, teachers, and ordinary men and women detail American society’s definition of a real man: powerful, dominating, wealthy, and promiscuous. But above all, not weak. Not like a girl.

Educator Tony Porter talks about a boy who said he’d feel destroyed if his coach said he played like a girl. Porter asks, What are we teaching our boys? What are we teaching our girls?

Mask advocates for a less rigid definition of masculinity. One that encourages greater emotional expression and openness for boys and men, thereby discouraging violence and destructive behaviors.

The film observes that a rigid definition of masculinity means boys and men constantly have to prove their manhood. But a man can never definitively prove his manhood because every new challenge threatens a loss of this identity.

This can lead to extreme behaviors, or what the film calls hypermasculinity. Most notable is men’s violence, which Mask illustrates with statistics, and clips from popular action movies and violent video games.

The film’s biggest impact, however, is the everyday boys and young men who tell their stories and talk about how they really feel. Teacher Ashanti Branch runs a support group for teenage boys. The film shows him leading an exercise where boys draw a mask on a piece of paper. On the front they describe how other people see them. On the back they write how they really feel. Then they crumple the papers and throw them at each other. Opening up someone else’s mask, each boy reads what’s on the outside, and what’s on the inside.

The funny, nonchalant, and cocky personas turn into sadness, anger, social isolation, and low self-worth. It’s a painful place to go. But Branch’s Ever Forward Club claims that 100% of the kids in this program (many of whom are from low income families) graduate from high school, and 93% go on to college.

Mask is full of boys and young men who confess that they feel like they could never measure up to the image of a “real man.” They describe their loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger. They describe coping with alcohol, drugs, and risky behavior. But they play the game because not doing so means being socially ostracized, bullied, and rejected.

For some there’s a larger price, however. In a prison support group, inmates describe horrifically abusive childhoods, and joining gangs because they craved a sense of belonging.

Mask describes gender socialization as beginning the moment boys and girls are brought home from the hospital, dressed in blue or pink, and given gender specific toys. Still, little boys are often as emotionally expressive as little girls. When puberty arrives, however, male friendships cease to have the same level of emotional connection because boys try to conform to the emotionally independent requirement of manhood. And so they don’t look gay. But with this emotional isolation we find an enormously higher suicide rate among boys.

The film also profiles several boys and men who grew up without fathers. Luis’s father was deported, and Luis got involved with a gang because he craved male role models. Cody’s dad was in prison for much of his childhood. Steven never had a father figure but later became a single dad. And an awesome dad at that.

Interspersed throughout the clips is a sea of statistics. The film could use a thorough fact checking, however. For example, Mask uncritically presents the unscientific statistic that 35% of men would commit rape if they thought they could get away with it. The claim is based on a non-representative, non-random sample that is too small (only 86 men) to draw any statistically significant conclusion. But this follows along with the film’s claim that the United States is a rape culture (the belief that American culture encourages men to rape women). Though this is debatable, it’s presented without any counterpoint.

I also would have preferred the film to explore the larger systemic issues of fatherlessness. Further, though Mask discusses father wounds, the issue of mother wounds is absent.

Also absent is any discussion of how girls and women’s expectations of men can marginalize less stereotypically masculine men, and encourage male silence. Likewise, men’s violence against women is discussed at length, but women’s violence against boys and men, and women’s not uncommon desire for control over males, is barely mentioned.

The most jarring omission, however, is that male disposability is never acknowledged or even alluded to. Yet, a culture that makes a global issue of Boko Haram’s kidnapping of girls while completely ignoring the group’s mass murder of boys (because they are boys) illustrates how little society values the lives of boys and men relative to girls and women.

Despite these flaws, Mask is a powerfully moving film that had a strong effect on the audience. The discussion after the film showed its impact. A grandmother commented that she thought boys had it easy, but now she’s seeing a different side of things. A young man said he just found out that he has a son on the way, and is joining the Maine Boys to Men new father’s program.

Though the dialogue about problems boys and men face so far has barely reached the mainstream, The Mask You Live In presents an excellent opportunity to spark a national conversation.

Well, That Was Stupid

We’ve all done stupid things. I’ve taken risks I’ve on a bicycle that didn’t turn out so well, made comments that made other people go “Huh?”, and missed things that should have been blindingly obvious.

But I’m not an idiot. I swear. No, really.

The Washington Post recently summarized the stupid research of Balazs Aczel.  Even highly intelligent people do incredibly stupid things, and he wanted to figure out why.

Aczel claims that stupidity comes in three basic flavors. Any more than three and I’d just forget them anyway.

The basic point is that emotions are a bigger factor that IQ. Typically we react based on how we feel, and reason kicks in (literally) as an afterthought.

The three kinds of stupid are:

1. Overestimating our ability to do something. This is the king of stupid. Youtube has tons of videos where people attempt things they’re clearly incapable of. The technical term for this is confidence ignorance. It’s kind of thing that leads others to ask, “Whadjya think was gonna happen?” But maybe we didn’t think. Maybe we just felt like doing it.

2. Then there’s impulsiveness. Acting without thinking because we’re unable to delay gratification; we’re being compulsive; or because of an intense emotional state, whether excitement, fear, or something else.

Impulsiveness can be induced, of course. Being manipulated with an artificial time pressure (a favorite of used car salesmen) is a good example. Don’t take the the weekend to think it over! Act now! It might be gone tomorrow!

There are some circumstances that overlap overconfidence and impulsiveness. Having an agenda or ideological blinders can lead us to ignore practical considerations or contrary evidence. It all comes down to a desire to prove the truth of our ideology by acting without taking the time to fully evaluate the situation. George W. Bush’s rush to war in Iraq is an example.

And there’s the desire to cover up a mistake. Too often people aren’t as good at lying as they think. And too often we panic, fearing immediate consequences without thinking through the longterm consequences of a cover up.

3. Finally, there’s absentmindedness. We’re just not paying attention. Our mind is somewhere else, and we don’t see it coming. Or it could be lack of information or lack of experience with a particular situation.

I think a common subset of this is anxiety or panic short circuiting our ability to think things through. This overlaps impulsiveness to a degree, in the sense that anxiety can not only cause us to freeze like a deer in the headlights, but it also can cause us to react without thinking like a squirrel that runs left then right then left (then gets run over).

We’re all stupid. It’s happened before, and it’s going to happen again. But we can minimize it:

  1. If I haven’t been in a situation before, I need to tell myself that I don’t know the limits. Be careful. Do some research.
  2. If someone’s pressuring me, they’re manipulating me. I have a right to slow things down and say, “I really need to think this over.”
  3. Plan ahead, and find an ally. If I’m buying a car I should bring someone with me who knows a thing or two about it.
  4. Be respectful but skeptical of all ideologies. And mine most of all. I think of myself as a skeptic (“Certainty is proportional to the evidence,” to paraphrase David Hume; “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” to almost verbatim quote Carl Sagan). But confirmation bias is a huge downfall for me – believing something without question because it aligns with what I already believe. This leads to overconfidence, however.
  5. Learn to delay gratification. If I really want something, wait a week and then see if I still want it. Tell someone about it so they can help me stay honest.
  6. Pay attention. Buddhist techniques to learn mindfulness are helpful.

Jane Austin vs John Steinbeck: The Ultimate Smackdown

Okay, so that’s an exaggeration. I’ve never made it through a Jane Austin novel, though I did watch the movie version of Pride & Prejudice. Twice. Mainly because Keira Knightly is in it, and she has the best smile in Hollywood.

The problem is that the book is full of snobby English people who talk fancy and are always trying to one up each other. I keep waiting for one of them to declare, “I do say, my kind sir, why don’t you close your pie hole!”

But that scene never happens.

My ex-wife likes Jane Austin, which is why I once tried to read Pride & Prejudice. She did make it all the way through the novel I recommended, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. But she didn’t like the Joad family. They’re too crude and ignorant. And the scene at the end where Rose of Sharon breastfeeds the old man (to save his life) is kinda gross.

Pride & Prejudice has a point to make, mainly that these vices can blind us to seeing the real person inside. I just can’t connect with the characters. The Grapes of Wrath has a point to make as well. Set during the Great Depression, extreme poverty can create an every-man-for-himself attitude, or it can draw people together.

Rose of Sharon, a poor farm laborer like the rest of her family, has shared the same hardships as everyone else. Plus one. Her baby is stillborn. But despite such suffering, she isn’t thinking of herself when he finds the emaciated old man. And that’s why she breastfeeds him.

There is a common theme with Pride & Prejudice and The Grapes of Wrath, however. Darcy is a gentleman who deserves a high status wife, but Elizabeth is merely middle class. The Joad family, however, is even lower class: poor uneducated farmers who don’t speak proper English, and who find meaning in life through their fundamentalist Christian beliefs. They don’t bathe often because they’re transient worker, they spit a lot on account of chewing tobacco, and one of them did time in the slammer. But they are people of character. They see each other through.

Low social class doesn’t make you a bad person, and high social class doesn’t automatically make you respectable in a way that really matters. It’s about how you treat other people.

I like Steinbeck because he wrote like like a psychologist. East of Eden takes place before the First World War. The novel explores the fear of rejection, and the destructive behavior this fear can lead to.

Adam’s father rejects him because he’s not manly enough. And Adam’s macho brother gets away with physically abusing him. Later, his brother impregnates Adam’s psycho wife (who will never love Adam and actually despises him for loving her). Adam’s wife eventually abandons him and the children, but not before shooting Adam for good measure (he survives).

But it’s Lee who articulates East of Eden‘s central point. Lee speaks broken English when he’s around white people he doesn’t know well. Though born an American, whites can’t see him as anything but a “Chinaman.”

Lee says that Cain and Abel “is the story of mankind.” He asserts that “the greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears.” He concludes that “with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt.”

Eventually, Adam’s son learns the truth that was kept hidden from him. Will the boy seek revenge on his mother? The boy, however, realizes he has a choice. And that’s what breaks the cycle of rejection and revenge.

Grandma & Rita. Also, Nurse Jackie: Another Mixed Up Not Quite Movie Review

I don’t really write movie reviews. I’ll say I liked a movie without saying exactly why, then I’ll point to something about the movie that made me think, and I’ll go off on a tangent. So bear with me. Oh, and spoilers everywhere.

Grandma stars Lily Tomlin as grandma, aka Elle Reid. I’ve loved Lily Tomlin since I was a little kid. In the 1970s she would guest star on Sesame Street as a character my sisters and I called the retarded girl. I know, not a nice thing to say. And not something I’d say today as an adult and a social worker.

Tomlin sat in a giant rocking chair, dressed like a child. It was a skit she had done since the early ’70s on Laugh-In. As a five year old watching Sesame Street I thought she really was a child, but I knew something wasn’t quite right. My mother claimed that Tomlin wasn’t small. Instead, the chair was big. But Jean Piaget told us almost a century ago that little kids don’t get stuff like that. Hence a child’s conclusion that Tomlin had special challenges.

Lately she’s played Frankie in the Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie, which is about two women whose husbands divorce them for each other. It’s an ingenious and hilarious look at gay marriage.

But I digress.

In Grandma, Tomlin’s granddaughter Sage is pregnant and has decided to have an abortion. The film doesn’t hem and haw over a choice that’s she’s already made, nor does it debate the issue. The problem is finding enough money to pay for the abortion. Bravo.

Grandma is really about women mending relationships. There’s grandma’s grief over the death of her long time partner and fear of committing to the new woman in her life. And there’s grandma’s broken relationship with her daughter while Sage deals with similar mother-daughter issues.

But in the tradition of feminist films such as Thelma & Louise and Maleficent, every man in Grandma is either an asshole or is useless.

Sage’s boyfriend is an irresponsible kid with a beard that looks like an armpit on your face (I laughed out loud at that line). When grandma tells the boy that he is responsible for half the cost of the abortion, he threatens her with a hockey stick. So she grabs it and slams him in the nuts.

Later, grandma finds her ex-husband (played by Sam Elliott), and he manages to extort a kiss from her in exchange for loaning her the money. But then he tries to extort sex. And once he finds out what the money is for, he adamantly refuses because grandma aborted their child 50 years ago without even telling him she was pregnant.

The only (presumably) decent man in the film is married to a woman with a women’s studies degree, but she won’t let him speak.

Still, I enjoyed the film Grandma (and Themla & Louise and Maleficent), and I recommend seeing it.

But Grace De Rond, writing for the Good Men Project, asks “Why Is America the Home of Male Bashing?” She married a man from the Netherlands, and she writes about questions he had when he first experienced American culture first hand. “Why was Papa Berenstain clumsy and over-reactive? And why was he portrayed as a poor husband and dad?” I would add, why is every TV dad a variation of Homer Simpson?

De Rond observes that “This stereotyping of males was new to him because his country doesn’t have a male bashing culture.”

The Danish TV show Rita (which Netflix said I’d like because I watched a Swedish film) illustrates De Rond’s point.

It’s a great show about a nonconformist teacher who really cares about her students, but whose personal life is a bit dysfunctional. Rita’s ex-husband is a narcissist who isn’t involved in the lives of his kids. He left Denmark for London long ago.

Rita is flawed too, however. Yes, she cares about her students. But she’s unable to maintain adult relationships. The headmaster, Rasmus, is a kind man who’s looking for a relationship. But Rita just can’t maintain it, even though Rasmus is great with her kids, one of whom is her gay teenage son.

Rasmus ends up leaving Rita for a woman who’s serious about wanting a relationship. Meanwhile, there are plenty of cads hitting on Rita.

Finally, though Rita’s heterosexual son is a somewhat irresponsible young man, upon becoming a father he does a 180 and become a devoted husband and father.

Rita’s fellow teacher is a young woman who grows personally and professionally as the show goes on. She also struggles with a boyfriend who might not be up to the task of fatherhood, but he eventually comes around too.

My point is that Hollywood has long featured women in push up bras and low IQs, and feminist themed films turn the tables on that. But from what I’ve seen of Scandinavian film and TV, there’s far less gender stereotyping and more character complexity. No wonder De Rond’s husband looked at American culture and was like, seriously?

But there’s hope. The American cable TV show Nurse Jackie features a Rita-like lead character who goes the extra mile for her patients, but who totally fucks up her personal life because of drug addiction. But she tries her hardest to turn her life around.

Her husband (and then ex-husband) is not perfect either. But he is a devoted dad who provides his daughters with some stability. The show has other positive male characters as well.

One of the most interesting characters, however, is Zoey. In the first season she’s nurse fresh out of school, a callow and naive girl. But her character develops bit by bit, and suddenly you realize she’s become a professional and in-charge woman who fills the professional void Jackie has left behind.

Mass Shootings Are a Gender Issue: But What’s the Right Response?

It seems like mass shootings are becoming more common. I’ve written before about mass shooters being almost all male (though the claim that mass shooters are disproportionately white is false). Today I want to ask if the intersection of American culture and masculinity plays a role. After all, mass shooters are almost all male in other countries too, but most other countries (including Canada) don’t have the frequency of mass shootings that we find in the United States.

American culture has always been militaristic. The original colonists warred with America’s first nations over land, which culminated in the Wild West’s genocidal campaign against Native Americans. And The Atlantic notes that controlling slaves played a huge historical role in the development of America’s gun culture. Further, while opposed by most of the world, Americans over a decade ago were largely supportive of the offensive (“preemptive self-defense”) war in Iraq.

The predictable response to the most recent mass shooting in Oregon by conservatives is a call for more people to arm themselves. America’s honor culture, which accepts violent vigilante justice and distrusts the government to properly administer justice, is alive and well. It’s a common motif in Hollywood films.

Honor culture is particularly about masculinity. Writing for Patheos.com, Fred Clark notes the theory that when a person’s identity is questioned, that person is “likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity.”

Toxic masculinity is a hot topic, but it lacks counterbalance due to the failure to also discuss positive masculinity. That’s why I wrote for insideMAN that masculinity has never been monolithic. Supportive and nonviolent forms of masculinity have always been with us.

Unlike honor culture, a culture of dignity doesn’t blame others for personal failings or take offense at small slights, but it does respect other people’s rights and boundaries while assertively and nonviolently defending one’s own rights and boundaries.

And dignity isn’t just a human trait. In my post about the myth of the lone wolf/alpha male, I noted that zoologists have found that “within the pack he [the male wolf] is most often cooperative.” Nor are wolf packs as male dominated as popular culture believes.

I concluded that the masculine qualities pop culture promotes should be more Captain Picard and less Captain Kirk. Like it or not, pop culture defines our attitudes to a huge extent. I think the stories we tell ourselves need to reflect the distinction between honor culture and dignity culture, and counterbalance the destructiveness of honor culture with the positivity of dignity culture, and the implications for both on masculinity.

But there’s something else that stands out. On the CBS Evening News (15:57) on October 2, Dr. Kelly Posner (who founded Columbia University’s suicide prevention program) claimed that 90% of mass shooters have had serious suicidal thoughts. I haven’t fact checked that statistic, but it’s consistent with the fact that almost four out of five suicides are male.

The claim that the male suicide rate is far higher because men use more fatal methods (such as firearms) avoids the issue. It’s like saying men get more speeding tickets because they drive faster. Why do men drive faster? Why do men use more lethal suicide methods? If masculinity is why, then what is it about masculinity?

Though women attempt suicide more, this cry for help shows they want help rather than death. But men are much less likely to believe they’ll get help or even be listened to. (Men are listened to when talking about impersonal things like sports, but often not with personal and emotional issues.)

Expecting men to be more empathetic toward others is only half the equation. Society must also be more empathetic toward men. Yet, a casual glance at Internet comment sections shows that even women who support egalitarian gender roles are sometimes dismissive of men who express personal concerns, frequently referring to men as babies or suggesting (with zero sum reasoning) that women’s issues are more important so men shouldn’t talk about men’s issues.

But as one woman noted on a Facebook discussion board for the masculinity documentary The Mask You Live In,

I strongly believe society has told men what they expect in the form of “girl power”. In my opinion, and I have a son and a daughter who are tweens, the expression “girl power” has become all encompassing. Instead of teaching both genders of children they BOTH have “power” inside them we exclude young boys and relegate them to sports only as ways for them to express themselves. Take a look at most rural or suburban schools, they have programs after school for girls only that teach them about peer pressure, body confidence, etc beginning at a young age! Such programs do not exist for young boys. I have heard of such programs for young boys in urban schools however, they are not a national program like “Girls on the Run”…My son is almost 12, he has asked me “do I have power?” I didn’t understand what he was talking about, until he explained the signs at school for girl only events…Boys need nurturing too, it’s ok as a nation to emotionally nurture boys outside the home.

The enormous male/female suicide gap first appears in adolescence and widens as boys progress to manhood. If it’s true that 90% of mass shooters have had serious suicidal thoughts, then imagine the effect that programs for boys could have in reducing these tragic events.

Disagreement Isn’t Closed Minded

Years ago a coworker told me that she and her fiancé visited his Lutheran pastor because they were to be married in his church. The pastor asked her if she believed in Christ. She said no, she was raised Christian but is now a Unitarian-Universalist (most UUs believe in God but not the Trinity).

The pastor asked her why she was so closed minded. And that pissed her off. Not believing what he believes doesn’t make her closed minded, she told me. She respected his beliefs, and in the process of rejecting Christianity she had taken the time to educate herself about Christian belief.

Too often, when someone tells you that you don’t understand or that you’re not being open minded, what they really mean is that they want you to agree with them. But it’s entirely possible to understand a situation yet come to a different conclusion.

Religion and politics are where charges of closed mindedness occur most often. Who is more closed minded, conservatives or liberals? Or is that a bullshit question? I’ve met too many open minded conservatives and closed minded liberals, and open minded liberals and closed minded conservatives, to draw a facile conclusion. Rather, I think the more strident people’s ideologies, the less open minded they tend to be.

In brief, this is what open mindedness means to me: the effort to understand each perspective, even if I disagree; and trying to accurately and respectfully represent my opponent’s views without distortion (even if I sometimes fail).