Open Viewpoint Method (OVM)

By Michael Alan Prestwood

A secular-religious bridge.
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Series: TST Framework | Five Thought Tools | Four Mind Traps | Three Truth Hammers
OVM: One of the Five Thought Tools.

Abstract: The Open Viewpoint Method (OVM) is a carefully designed way of conversing that makes it easier to talk about difficult subjects with people who have different beliefs or viewpoints. It is a linguistic and cognitive strategy that includes Three Viewpoints and the Material-Spiritual Framework. Whether you’re a religious believer, an empiricist, a skeptic, or anything in between, OVM can serve as a bridge to better understanding. It involves carefully choosing your words, paying close attention to context, and remaining sensitive to the beliefs of others. OVM is one of the Five Thought Tools. At the core of the TST Framework is the Five Thought Tools, which helps you gather, frame, and communicate accurate information. With this foundation in place, it is hard to go wrong, but the Four Mind Traps help you stir around potholes, and you can rely on the Three Truth Hammers to save you time.

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Bridge belief systems for more inclusive dialogue. 

In an increasingly polarized world, where differing beliefs and opinions often lead to conflict and misunderstanding, the time-worn adage “never discuss religion or politics” seems more relevant than ever. However, what if avoiding these conversations is part of the problem? What if we could, instead, find a way to talk openly about our differing belief systems—be they religious, philosophical, r scientific—without inflaming tensions? Enter the Open Viewpoint Method (OVM), a groundbreaking approach designed to bridge gaps between varying belief systems by employing a unique set of principles and substitution strategies.

In a society marked by ideological division and frequent misunderstanding, there’s a growing need for mechanisms that encourage constructive dialogue. Traditional debate methods often center on proving one viewpoint over another, which can exacerbate polarization rather than build understanding. OVM arose as a solution to these challenges, aiming to create an environment where differing viewpoints can coexist and be appreciated.

OVM operates on a set of guiding principles or rules tailored to encourage respectful and insightful dialogue. These rules serve as a framework for how to adapt statements to better align with the belief systems of others while retaining the essence of the original message.

The importance of dialogue and understanding cannot be overstated, particularly in a global community more diverse than ever before. In times where discussions about sensitive topics can easily escalate into divisive arguments, the OVM offers a paradigm shift. It suggests that sometimes we must talk about the very things we’ve been told to avoid, and it provides a framework for doing so constructively. Whether it’s a heated family dinner discussion about politics, an online debate about climate change, or an interfaith dialogue, our ability to communicate effectively across belief systems is crucial for social cohesion and progress.

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What is the Open Viewpoint Method (OVM)?

The Open Viewpoint Method (OVM) is a carefully designed way of conversing that makes it easier to talk about difficult subjects with people who have different beliefs or viewpoints. Whether you’re a religious believer, an empiricist, a skeptic, or anything in between, OVM can serve as a bridge to better understanding. It involves carefully choosing your words, paying close attention to context, and remaining sensitive to the beliefs of others.

The Guiding Principles of OVM

To make this easier, OVM operates based on a few simple yet effective rules. These are guidelines that help you navigate conversations around complex or potentially sensitive topics:

  1. Be Precise with Religious and Spiritual Terms: If you’re discussing specific religious or spiritual beliefs, use the names and terms that are accurate for those belief systems. This shows respect and helps avoid misunderstandings.
  2. Steer Clear of Religious Terms When Discussing Non-Religious Topics: If you’re talking about something that isn’t inherently spiritual or religious, like a political policy or a scientific theory, keep the discussion secular to make it inclusive for everyone.
  3. Be Mindful of Context and Tone: OVM can be applied in different settings, from academic discussions to casual chats. Regardless of the setting, aim for a respectful tone, especially when discussing sensitive topics.
  4. Know Your Audience but Don’t Cater to Extremes: OVM aims to be inclusive, but it doesn’t pander to individuals who are so set in their ways that they’re unwilling to consider other viewpoints. These people are not the target audience of an OVM-guided conversation.
  5. It’s for Everyone but Especially Useful for Thought Leaders: Whether you’re an educator, writer, or just someone keen to expand their horizons, OVM has something to offer you.
  6. The Goal is Universal Understanding: OVM is designed to make the wisdom found in different belief systems accessible to everyone, regardless of their own personal beliefs.
  7. Turn the Other Cheek: If someone else doesn’t follow these principles, that’s on them. You can choose to continue following OVM principles in your responses.
  8. Ethical Sensitivity: Always be considerate, especially when talking about contentious or sensitive issues.
  9. Get Creative with Substitutions: Sometimes substituting one term for another can make a discussion more inclusive. For example, instead of saying “God works in mysterious ways,” you could say “Nature works in mysterious ways” to make the same point in a way that’s more universally relatable.

By adopting these principles, you’re not just avoiding conflict; you’re actively fostering understanding and shared values. That’s the power and the promise of the Open Viewpoint Method.

OVM Rules

The Open Viewpoint Method (OVM) serves as an epistemological framework designed to foster interdisciplinary dialogue across a spectrum of belief systems, from theistic doctrines to empirical sciences. It operates on a set of rigorously defined rules that assist in the deconstruction and reconstruction of statements or arguments to make them palatable to diversified intellectual communities.

  1. Precise Representation of Irrational Entities: When discussing irrational abstract entities like deities or spiritual concepts, use specific terms that reflect the belief systems you’re addressing. For example, use “gods” when referring to Marcus Aurelius’s beliefs, “Waheguru” for Sikhism, and “God” for Abrahamic religions.
    Academic details: When the subject of discourse necessitates the incorporation of irrational abstract entities, employ lexically accurate nomenclature. For example, use the term “gods” within the context of Hellenistic polytheism or “Waheguru” when engaging in discussions related to Sikh theology.
  2. Exclusion of Irrational Entities in Rational Discussions: In dialogues that focus on tangible objects or rational abstract entities (e.g., justice, mathematics), refrain from incorporating irrational abstract entities. For example, discuss “life philosophies” without reference to gods or divine elements.
    Academic details:
    Segregate Irrational Constructs in Rational Discourse. In debates or discussions that pivot around concrete objects or rational abstract entities (e.g., socio-political constructs like justice or scientific principles), excise all references to irrational abstract entities, such as deities, the metaphysical, or transcendental realms.
  3. Contextual Adaptability: OVM can be employed in various settings, from academic to casual. However, aim for a tone that leans toward the formal, especially in informal contexts, to minimize misunderstandings.
    Academic details:
    OVM is trans-contextual, viable in both formal academic dialogues and casual conversations. Nevertheless, a proclivity towards formality is advised to mitigate the potential for semantic ambiguities.
  4. Audience Considerations: The OVM is designed to engage a broad audience, including believers, empiricists, skeptics, and true skeptics. True believers, defined as those who might be offended by the discussion of other belief systems, are not the target audience.
    Academic details: The methodology excludes dialogues with “epistemologically closed” individuals, commonly referred to as “true believers,” who are intransigent about the exclusivity of their belief systems. OVM aims to facilitate conversations among a diverse set of epistemic stances, including but not limited to theists, empiricists, skeptics, and agnostics.
  5. Primary Beneficiaries: While OVM aims to be inclusive, it is particularly useful for individuals in academia, science, education, and writing professions who are open to diversifying their intellectual horizons.
    Academic details:
    While universally applicable, OVM is optimally leveraged by professionals engaged in epistemology, theology, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The methodology serves as an intellectual tool for nuanced discourse.
  6. Scope of Topics: The OVM framework applies to all subject matters, but is primarily designed for two branches of topics: rational discussions that exclude the irrational, and respectful dialogue concerning the irrational. The focus is on discussing both rational entities such as justice while excluding divine or mystical elements, as well as respectful dialogues on irrational entities like ghosts, mythical realms like Valhalla, and spiritual entities like gods or God.
    Academic details.
    Concerning topic specificity, OVM’s epistemological structure is flexible enough to cover a wide range of subjects but is particularly calibrated for two main branches: 1) rational discourses that deliberately omit irrational or mystical elements and 2) dialogues that treat irrational or mystical subjects with academic rigor and respect. This dual focus allows for nuanced conversations around rational abstract entities like justice or freedom, while also providing a respectful platform for discussing irrational abstract entities like gods, ghosts, or mystical realms.
  7. Primary Objective: The ultimate goal of OVM is to make the rational components of all belief systems accessible to a broad audience without diluting core beliefs of either party.
    Academic details:
    Regarding the operational objective, OVM aspires to democratize the rational constituents embedded within diverse philosophies, religions, and belief systems, rendering them accessible for interdisciplinary scrutiny and integration.
  8. Limitations on Adherence: If interlocutors do not adhere to these guidelines, their non-compliance is to be acknowledged but not imitated. Responses should remain within the OVM framework.
    Academic details:
    Regarding normative constraints, instances of non-compliance with OVM rules by interlocutors are to be passively acknowledged, as they reflect individual epistemic orientations. However, adherence to OVM remains obligatory in formulating rejoinders.
  9. Ethical Sensitivity: Exercise due caution and sensitivity when engaging with topics that are controversial or sensitive in nature.
    Academic details:
    Regarding ethical caveats, discourse under OVM requires an a priori commitment to ethical rigor, especially when navigating topics that intersect with moral or ethical concerns. For example, if the conversation pertains to a sensitive topic like euthanasia, it is crucial to acknowledge the range of moral, cultural, and religious viewpoints on the issue, employing language that is both precise and sensitive to these diverse perspectives.
  10. Linguistic Substitutions: OVM employs various stylistic options for substituting terms to make discussions more inclusive. For example, “God” can be replaced with “nature” where appropriate.
    Academic details:
    Regarding stylistic nuances, OVM provides latitude for stylistic variations, particularly in lexical substitutions. For instance, phrases like “providential design” may be neutrally translated as “evolutionary mechanisms,” contingent upon the academic community being addressed.
  11. Illustrative Examples: Employ rephrasing strategies, such as changing “God works in mysterious ways” to “Nature works in mysterious ways,” to make statements more universally relatable.
    Academic details: Regarding exemplification, statements traditionally rooted in specific belief systems can be reframed for universal intellectual consumption.

  12. Citation of Authorities: Acknowledge primary texts or preeminent experts when discussing specific religious, philosophical, or scientific ideas.

Specific Contextual Situations

Religious to Secular OVM
For instance, when converting religious sayings to secular equivalents, the following rules apply:

Replace specific religious terms, like “God” or “Allah,” with more neutral terms like “nature” or “the universe.”
Replace mentions of divine will with phrases like “the flow of nature.”
Substitute religious expressions, such as “blessings,” with secular equivalents like “fortunate events.”

Example conversions of religious sayings to secular:

“God works in mysterious ways.” becomes “Nature works in mysterious ways.”
“Let go and let God.” changes to “Let go and trust the natural order of things.”
“The Devil is in the details.” is modified to “Complexity is in the details.”

Secular to Religious OVM
Similarly, to adapt secular sayings to religious contexts, the rules might include:

If a saying denies the existence of supernatural beings, rephrase it to acknowledge the possibility or uncertainty of their existence.
Replace neutral terms like “nature” with specific religious terms, such as “God.”
Substitute secular expressions like “fortunate events” with religious equivalents, such as “blessings.”

Example conversions of secular sayings to religious:

“There is no God, only the natural world.” becomes “There is no evidence for supernatural beings, only nature and the belief in supernatural beings.”
“Science, not faith, explains the world around us.” changes to “Empirical understanding, with or without faith, explains the world around us.”

By comprehending and applying these principles, we can engage in conversations that honor the diversity of human thought, opening the doors to more meaningful, respectful interactions.

Why is OVM Important?

In an era marked by intense ideological divides and polarization, conversations surrounding beliefs, ethics, and philosophies can quickly become heated and counterproductive. The rise of social media, echo chambers, and political polarization has intensified this division, making it increasingly difficult to engage in balanced, respectful dialogue. Instead of approaching discussions with an open mind, people often arrive with preconceived judgments, further widening the gulf between differing viewpoints.

This is precisely where the Open Viewpoint Method (OVM) comes into play. OVM serves as a countermeasure to polarization by creating a framework for more constructive conversations. By focusing on the principles that underpin differing opinions rather than the contentious terms that often ignite disputes, OVM aims to reduce hostility and facilitate a more meaningful exchange of ideas.

OVM’s goal isn’t to erase differences or to make everyone agree; rather, it seeks to establish a common ground where differing opinions can be discussed with respect and openness. By making small, deliberate changes in the language we use, we can bring down the barriers that prevent constructive conversation and mutual understanding. This method provides a much-needed way to navigate the minefield of sensitive topics, from religion and politics to ethics and social issues.

Through its application, OVM encourages us to set aside our preconceptions and engage directly with the ideas presented, rather than getting caught up in the emotionally charged language that often accompanies these topics. In doing so, it fosters a dialogue that is not only more respectful but also more insightful, allowing for a richer, more nuanced understanding of the world around us.

Benefits of Implementing OVM

One of the most immediate benefits of the Open Viewpoint Method is its ability to foster openness and mutual understanding among people with differing beliefs. By providing a structured framework for dialogue, OVM allows individuals to engage in more inclusive and respectful conversations. Its language-substitution strategy can help to neutralize triggers that usually incite emotional reactions, allowing individuals to better appreciate the perspectives of others. For instance, by swapping the term “divine purpose” for “personal purpose,” a religious person and an atheist can discuss life’s meaning on more neutral grounds, creating an atmosphere of empathy and mutual respect.

Encouraging Critical Thinking and Curiosity
OVM is not merely about making conversations smoother; it’s also about deepening them. By facilitating the exchange of differing viewpoints, OVM spurs individuals to question their assumptions and think critically. Such intellectual engagement can lead to more profound insights and a better understanding of complex concepts. Whether discussing the nature of the universe, ethical frameworks, or social issues, OVM can inspire a religious person to explore scientific theories or prompt a skeptic to investigate various religious teachings.

Sub-section: Reducing Polarization and Promoting Dialogue
In a world where ideological divisions seem more intractable than ever, the potential for OVM to reduce polarization is invaluable. The method encourages individuals to focus on the underlying ideas, rather than the labels or specific terms that might otherwise cause disputes. As a result, people with divergent beliefs can engage in constructive dialogues, moving past their initial emotional reactions to explore the topics at hand. For example, a secular humanist and a devout Christian may discover that they share values like compassion and empathy, even if they arrive at these values through different belief systems.

Enhancing Personal Growth and Intellectual Development
One of the often overlooked advantages of OVM is its capacity to contribute to personal and intellectual growth. Being exposed to a variety of perspectives challenges individuals to refine their beliefs and preconceived notions. Whether it’s a strict materialist gaining new insights from Eastern philosophies, or someone rooted in a particular religious tradition broadening their understanding through the ethical frameworks of secular humanism, OVM encourages a more nuanced view of the world. The exposure to diverse thoughts and ideas serves not just to enrich one’s intellect but also to contribute to a more well-rounded personality.

Challenges and Limitations of OVM

While the Open Viewpoint Method has many benefits, it’s essential to be aware of its limitations, particularly the risk of oversimplification. OVM aims to facilitate understanding through language substitution, but there’s a potential pitfall of oversimplifying complex concepts or beliefs. For example, swapping “nature” for “God” might not fully capture the nuances of a religious person’s belief in divine intervention or their personal relationship with their deity. Similarly, replacing “karma” with “cause and effect” might not convey the spiritual nuances associated with the concept of karma.

Misrepresenting or Misinterpreting Original Ideas
Another challenge lies in the potential for misrepresenting or misinterpreting the original ideas or beliefs of others. Even with the best intentions, the act of substituting one term for another can distort the meaning of an expression, especially if the substituted term doesn’t align with the original context. For instance, replacing “God” with “nature” in a religious text might inadvertently alter its intended message, doing a disservice to the original ideas and possibly causing offense. This underscores the need for sensitivity and a genuine desire to understand the original context when employing OVM.

Recognizing the Limits of Substitution and Respecting Differing Viewpoints
OVM can be an incredibly helpful tool for fostering dialogue, but it’s crucial to recognize when substitution might not be appropriate. In some instances, using OVM could lead to misunderstandings or even undermine the significance of particular beliefs or concepts. For example, substituting “cosmic energy” for “prayer” might not reflect the intimate and communal aspects of prayer in various religious traditions. In such cases, the best approach might be to engage in open and respectful dialogue, appreciating the unique perspectives of others without resorting to substitutions.

Practical Applications of OVM

OVM is not just a theoretical framework; it has practical applications that can positively impact our daily interactions. In personal and professional settings, implementing OVM can pave the way for more inclusive and constructive conversations. For instance, ethical debates at work often involve diverse perspectives; using OVM can ensure that all viewpoints are considered, creating a more supportive environment.

In Educational Settings
Educators have a unique opportunity to employ OVM to create more inclusive learning environments. By incorporating OVM into discussions about philosophy, religion, or ethics, teachers can encourage students to explore different perspectives and develop critical thinking skills. For example, a high school philosophy teacher might use OVM techniques when discussing the nature of good and evil, thereby enabling students of various belief systems to participate meaningfully.

Online Discussions and Social Media Interactions
In a world where online interactions can quickly become polarized, OVM offers a practical tool for fostering respectful and meaningful dialogue. By applying OVM in online forums or social media exchanges, users can bridge the gap between differing viewpoints, fostering a more inclusive digital space. For instance, a conversation about climate change could incorporate both religious and secular perspectives on environmental stewardship, leading to a more productive discussion.

Interfaith or Intercultural Dialogue
Perhaps one of the most potent applications of OVM is in the realm of interfaith or intercultural dialogue. By employing OVM, participants can explore each other’s beliefs with greater nuance and understanding, recognizing commonalities that transcend religious or cultural differences. For example, in an interfaith panel discussing forgiveness, panelists could use OVM to dissect the concept across different religious traditions, thereby enriching the dialogue and fostering mutual respect.

Conclusion: Embracing OVM for a More Inclusive World

In a time when differences in belief and opinion often lead to conflict and misunderstanding, the Open Viewpoint Method (OVM) emerges as a pivotal tool for fostering greater inclusivity, understanding, and respect among us all. By embracing OVM in various facets of our lives—from personal conversations to professional debates, from educational settings to online discussions—we open the door to more empathetic and respectful interactions.

To fully leverage the benefits of OVM, it’s crucial to make it a consistent practice. By consciously employing OVM in daily interactions, we cultivate an environment where understanding and empathy are the norms, not the exceptions.

At its core, OVM celebrates the incredible diversity of human thought and belief. By engaging with diverse perspectives in a respectful and open-minded manner, we contribute to a richer, more nuanced understanding of the world and the people who inhabit it.

Let us strive to incorporate OVM in our daily interactions, recognizing its potential for fostering a climate where curiosity, critical thinking, and open-mindedness thrive. In doing so, we take an active role in creating a more understanding and inclusive world for future generations.

By Mike Prestwood
Natural Philosopher

Mike’s throwback title simply means he writes about philosophy, science, critical thinking, and history with a focus on exploring boundaries and intersections. While his focus is on our rational ideas about empirical observations, he does enjoy dabbling in the irrational. His exploration of the empirical led him to develop his Idea of Ideas which allows him to understand what is empirical, rational, and irrational as well as to easily understand what is empirically true, rational true, and irrationally false.

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