I have always been a great fan of the saying, “if you keep too much of an open mind, your brain will fall out”. I do not have many principles, but this aphorism has been useful and encouraging for at least a decade (I cannot remember when I first read it, but it feels like a decade ago) at the grindstone, so I have embraced it as such. Still, now, with age and other wrinkles at the corners of my eyes, another thought, or question, keeps niggling at me. How much is too much? How open is too open?
The question is not the result of idle speculation. I am not a philosopher, even though I sometimes wonder if my true love was that guy who thought I knew a lot about Nietzsche when I did not twenty years ago. Of course I am not calling the demanding, even gruelling academic discipline of philosophy “idle speculation”. I have tried to read Thus Spoke Zarathustra a number of times since that first bunch of actual roses on Valentine’s Day, but have not managed, to this day, to live up to the expectations I created by randomly quoting cool-sounding adages. I think you know what I mean.
Anyway. I honestly believe that we get smarter as we get older. This is, of course, assuming that we were smart to start off with. Without some initial smarts, this theory is just a theory.
When I think of myself at seventeen I don’t feel a great fondness for a braver, more innocent and more energetic version of myself. There are glimpses of the bull-headed naiveté that made it possible for a small-town girl to make a 30-minute fiction film in a big city when she knew virtually nobody, but just thought it was possible to do so. There is no nostalgia in the act of looking back, only small moments of horror. It’s no sentimental journey, no sir, just trip to Cringeville: the details are too harrowing to go into here.
But I should not be so hard on myself, or in fact, young people in general. I turned out OK, you can take me anywhere, for sure, and just because I could read and write full sentences in two languages by the time I finished school, it does not make me better than the average high school graduate in a post-apartheid South Africa.
But back to the open mind. How open is too open? One of my other favourite quotes that I hesitate to use since the disappointing Nietzsche incident is by Albert Einstein: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. Although it is tempting for an exceedingly smart person to believe that the world is wrong and she is right (as a rule) eventually she must be overwhelmed by the volume and duration of idiocy she will be confronted during her lifetime, and she must see the sense in capitulation as a practical alternative to shuffling off the mortal coil in sheer exasperation. I exaggerate of course.
It will be hard to embrace the idea that in spite of knowing how the world should be, I should try to live in it as it is. That is – for me – incredibly open-minded. It may sound like a step in the the right direction, but even so, as I go, I think I will be holding my head. Just in case.