Like-Mindedness Is Not A Virtue

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In the words-to-hate association, which is ever growing and whose founding member is Self-Care, today I would like to add one that I’ve been bumping into for years, but which has been poking its unwelcome head more lately into the corners of lots of articles and places it doesn’t deserve to be. Like Self-Care, it is the conjoining of two bland, useful words, that, when you put them together, take on an ugly twist. The word is like-minded, and I hate it.

I first encountered the emotional properties of this word years ago as I watched a family, in the quest to find themselves, set out to look for other people exactly like them. They professed tolerance and inclusion as the foundations of their approach to the world, but strangely, wherever they went and whatever they did, they rejoiced when they found ‘the like minded.’ After a while I noticed that they were only ever taking selfies with people dressed peculiarly the same in the attempt to be different and beaming the same, stretched, anxious smile. It was a curious phenomena to behold. It made me queasy, especially as they became narrower and narrower in their thinking, trading tolerant forgiveness for offense taking when disagreements inevitably arose. In the beginning there were many like-minded people for them to befriend, but as the years went by, their circle tightened and diminished.

I know this is a word that Christians like to use. It’s an offhand way of saying we have found, or are looking for, people who agree enough in theology and practice that we can relax around each other–the fundamental way in which we view the world is shared by other people and these other people are our friends. Our common assumptions make being together restful. For the ‘spiritual jargon’ loving, like-minded is sometimes employed as a sorry excuse for the biblical command to ‘be of one mind’ which isn’t to think exactly the same way about everything, but rather to do the hard work of agreeing in the Spirit of God about essential matters of the Christian faith.

There is a vague sense, of course, in which one might stretch the word ‘like-minded’ to include the revelation of a kindred spirit, that person you encounter whose soul you can see, whose whole way of being is like the right frequency on a tuning fork. These people are essential in the business of surviving the wilderness of human relationships. I need kindred spirits. And often those people are a little bit like I am, even in the thinking of my mind.

But not always, and not completely. In fact, of the people I would count on a few fingers and toes as kindred spirits, none of them share my mind. We are not ‘like-minded.’ We agree in practical terms on very little and struggle to find language in common or a way of thinking that completely overlaps. There is a constant work of trying to get on the same page, of trying to understand the strange ideas that occupy the other person’s mind.

Which is what I hate about the expression ‘like-minded.’ It implies, in an unexpressed perverse sense, that you must be like me. We two must be the same, but I am the measure of that sameness. My mind measures yours, and in so far as the two are the same, it’s ok. It’s rather like ‘self’ care, which sidelines the reality that you might need others in the ongoing business of attending to mental health*.

Furthermore, it is a creepy proposition that two people could have exactly the same ways of thinking and viewing the world. I know it’s sounds like it might be nice–never having to explain anything–but truly, it would become boring after the first three minutes. It is the strangeness, the difference of the Other that is so appealing, that makes a scintillating hour.

It is, just to nail the coffin down, a dumb way to ruin the word ‘likeness’–that rich thread that runs through the scripture. We were made in the likeness of God, but we marred and broke the picture. So then God came down in the likeness of us, only perfectly, to restore the image, and while still bearing the perfect likeness, the imprint, the substance of God. And now he is going about remaking us into the likeness of himself, slowly and painstakingly redoing the picture to make it what it ought to be. And the more he does this, the more we become like him, but more truly ourselves, more distinct, more idiosyncratic. No one is like another. Even in the mind, even in the way of considering the world.

But if that doesn’t move you, then just try to imagine all the ‘special snowflakes’ trying to find the ‘like-minded,’ and what a chaotic and wretched enterprise that might be. No, I can’t be the measure of everybody else’s thinking. I can’t go around looking for people who match up to what I think is best and right. I am not God. The differences, the changeability, the curiosity of other people so Unlike me are what makes life bright and enchanting.

*I mean in its ordinary, common usage. I understand it has a particular and useful definition in the medical realm.

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