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Is Being Closed-Minded Always Bad?

At some point, are we wise to settle on a position?

Wikipedia, CC 3.0
Source: Wikipedia, CC 3.0

When I was in my 20s, I met Michael Leibert, the revered founding director of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Having seen many of its plays, I asked if he'd like a little feedback. He said, "No."

That shocked me. Why wouldn't he at least consider well-intentioned feedback? When I asked him, he said something like, "At this point, I've heard it all. I know what's right for my theatre. More feedback would, because of its immediacy, get disproportionate weight in my thinking about what to do next. A distraction."

I was too young then to understand the wisdom of that. I now do.

Over the past decades, I've heard ever increasing exhortations about the importance of redistributive "justice:" taking resources from society's "Haves" to give to the "Have-Nots." In short, Robin-Hoodism. For example:

Reallocate more dollars and attention to low-achieving students.

Reallocate more college seats to low-income students.

Reallocate support from the police to the perpetrators.

Reallocate more job openings to "vulnerable populations," for example, the disparate impact policies that restrict employers' ability to use credit checks or even criminal record in deciding whom to employ.

When I was young, I was fully supportive of such initiatives. But little by little, over the decades, I have come to believe that such redistribution will accelerate America's decline into third-world status. People do not become society's "Haves" at random. Media memes tell of "silver spoons" and of "privilege." Usually more central to Haves' success is their intelligence, drive, and willingness to delay gratification. Those are the attributes key to creating helpful new products and services, creating jobs, being wise leaders, and curing disease, physical and mental.

For society to redistribute yet more to its Have-Nots wrests from those with the greatest potential to contribute to the nation and humankind to give to people less likely to. That's a formula for reducing America to the lowest common denominator and, in turn, to the aforementioned third-world status, in which the U.S. no longer has the resources to innovate, to fight cancer, to give desperately needed foreign aid, or even to defend itself against what seem like the ever increasing terrorist and other threats.

Of course, it feels good to give to the "least among us" but is that not an example of the short-term thinking we justifiably decry? Might our current love affair with redistributive "justice" ultimately turn out to be redistributive injustice because, long-term, it will, net, increase humankind's pain?

I can imagine that China and India are looking on in delight. We are doing to ourselves what they wouldn't dare do to us.

And like Michael Leibert, at this point in my life, my mind on redistributive "justice" is closed.

The payoff for sometimes being closed-minded. Resolving such foundational issues means that I have a set of guiding principles for deciding how to spend my time and money. And that's far more beneficial than spending yet more time being open-minded to hearing more about an issue on which I've already spent sufficient time.

Note: Tomorrow's article will be on the psychological and practical benefits of learning to play a musical instrument by ear, not with sheet music. It will offer a video and text lesson on how to learn to play by ear.

Dr. Nemko's nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at

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