The word “mindset” is so descriptive. The most common definition is something along the lines of “an established set of attitudes held by an individual.” We all have mindsets of one sort or another, beliefs or attitudes, but the most dangerous problem with any mindset is that too often long-established or firmly held mindsets make it impossible to see beyond one’s own assumptions and beliefs. I’m not advocating either changing or not changing one’s beliefs when they come in conflict with another’s, but I am saying that, for all too many people, their mindset makes it impossible for them to see problems, especially problems that others face.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an individual who said that rising sea levels weren’t that big a problem – that people could move. This individual lives in a wide-open state with good highways where the poorest individuals have at least limited freedom of movement. This person was literally unable to comprehend that someone living on an island in the Maldives or any other of innumerable low-lying islands has nowhere to move, and most have no funds with which to move, and that, these days, very few countries will accept such refugees.

My wife the professor attended a meeting dealing with the problems of sexually abused women in certain Middle Eastern countries and was astounded to hear college-educated women ask such questions as, “Why don’t they leave?” “Why do they put up with that?” Some of these women, and they were not unintelligent, could not comprehend the fact that in more than a few strict Islamic societies, women are chattels, with no rights beyond what their father or husband grants them. Without rights, they cannot own property, and even their clothes belong to a man. If they are raped, even if they fight valiantly and they are innocent of anything except being a victim, they can be killed because they have “dishonored” their husband and family. This isn’t hyperbole, but fact, yet it is so far from the experience, especially of “liberated” and privileged Americans, that many cannot accept that fact and place a certain level of responsibility upon the “dishonored” women. And even today, as recent statements by at least one American politician have demonstrated, some American males still manifest a version of blaming the victim.

Gender-based wage discrimination exists in the United States, and it is more prevalent in Utah. Last week a group presented a statistically-based initiative pointing this out, which received state-wide media attention. Several days after that I got a blog comment declaring that the state is opposed to such discrimination, and that the commenter had never seen such discrimination. The state may indeed be “officially” opposed to such discrimination, and that it is technically illegal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that such discrimination is not subtly encouraged by the dominant religion, which I also believe to be the case. Regardless of my mindset and beliefs, however, the documented disparity for pay between men and women holding the same jobs is more than a mere belief… and it didn’t “just happen.”

Mindsets come in all varieties. Liberal educators, in particular, have the mindset that everyone can benefit from an education and that if one praises students to raise self-esteem, that praise will solve half the problems immediately. Conservative educators believe that the business model will solve educational difficulties. Neither mindset seems able to observe that reality differs from their beliefs. The praise-team approach hasn’t worked, and neither has the business model, except in filling college faculties with underpaid adjunct instructors and dumbing down courses because simplified and objectified courses are easier to teach and grade. For that matter, excessive praise does the same thing.

The business mindset that profit is everything is destroying the American economy and middle class, and possibly even society if it continues unchecked, and so few business leaders seem to see that. It’s not that profit isn’t important, because it is. It’s just that profit can’t be the only goal, or the goal that reduces all other business objectives to third-tier tasks that are only undertaken if they don’t reduce profits in the slightest. By the same token, automotive unions pursued the highest possible wage and benefit package for their workers, regardless of the long-term goals… and now Detroit is almost a ghost town and millions of former middle class workers have suffered hugely.

Getting locked into your mindset so tightly that you cannot see beyond it is almost inevitably a recipe for some sort of disaster, and yet, the worse things get, the more tightly most people hold to an ever-narrower mindset. As if what got you into trouble will get you out… except it’s not your mindset; it’s other people’s. But how do you know when that’s true, and when it’s the other way around, if you can’t see beyond your own mindset?

3 thoughts on “Mindsets”

  1. Lydia C says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful article on mindsets. On the topic of hidden gender bias here in the US, I thought that the following link captures it quite well:


  2. Wine Guy says:

    Unfortunately, it is probably revolution and not evolution that will have to occur for deep-seeded mindsets to change. It might only be a personal revolution or it might be a more wide-spread. Mindsets (as defined here) are like stereotypes and cockroaches… nearly impossible to stamp out and resistant to nearly every pesticide used against them.

    It is extremely hard for most people to either own up to being wrong or admitting that there might be a better way to do something (that was not their own idea).

  3. Brian K says:

    “….Our physical environment is directly influenced by our consciousness. We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

    -Mark Jansen

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