Open-Mindedness: A pathway to light

Our ability to be able to refine our human qualities, change them, and moderate them on a daily basis indicates that we, humans are amalgam of qualities. Some of these qualities are at the forefront, depending on the situation, and other times are held back. Humanity is fluid in this way, tends to flow and conform to the outline of its environs.

However, on certain occasions, we get lost in ourselves as our own personal worlds become so small, modest and significant that we forget what else is out there. So quick, we interred the fact that there are billions of other people on earth also possessing billion of other combinations of personalities, experiences and upbringings as well. We become the center of our own personal universe, having our own definitive truths and ideologies. We form opinions and become staunch in them. Can anyone blame us? We only have knowledge of one life, one perspective.

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But, I bet you, what’s just as important as managing our own qualities and personality traits is the ability to understand someone else’s. One thing that is just as important as focusing on bettering ourselves is focusing on bettering our ability to connect with others. It is at that point open-mindedness comes in.

Open-mindedness is the single most important characteristic human beings posses. It is a tendency to tolerate or overlook opposing or shocking opinions or behaviour. To be open-minded means to remove your personal biases and prejudices from any situation and completely immerse yourself in another experience or situation.

Open-mindedness is a muscle. Such inclination involves practice, since we have been indoctrinated since birth with everything we currently know. You must actively place yourself in another person’s head, allowing yourself to think their thoughts and see things from their point of view. And it may not come with age. Open-mindedness takes time, energy, and patience.

Open-mindedness is important. One day, you most likely will dwell in a world that forces you to question many things you’ve come to know throughout your life. I remember being a freshman in the tertiary institution, college of education 11 years ago in the northern part of the largest black nation in the world before I attended University, I experienced this very phenomenon. For the first time, not everyone around me shared my personal beliefs, my values, and my psychological and political views, my definitions of life. It should have been natural to assume that I would be around people who were different from me, since obviously not every single person shared my upbringing in the south-western part of the country, Lagos in particular. But for some reasons, this thought didn’t cross my mind. It shocked me that the people I met did things I disagreed with and believed in things that I didn’t understand. I became angry and pejorative, and it felt awful at the time.

Despite it all, though, I loved these people. It confused me. In my secondary school days, I was always quick to separate people into “good” and “bad” categories, into these rigid and defiant classifications that determined if I was going to like them (“good”) or not (“bad”). I was so set in my beliefs. Then, once the next levels rolled around in, the people whom I considered “good” also possessed qualities of the “bad,” and I hated myself for continuing to judge the people I loved. I felt uncomfortable all the time, ripped from my little suburban bubble, always working to silence the disapproving words that kept enveloping my thoughts. Living in my own head became exhausting. Why couldn’t I be as carefree and accepting as everyone around me? Why did I care so much about what these people are doing, listening to, engaging in? Who was I to judge someone on how s/he lives his/her life? Who was I to assume that everybody had been brought up under similar influences and values as I had? Who was I to create a rigid definition of Normal, and then classify people who obscured from my own personal definition as Abnormal?
Who was I?

I am tempted to say that “I have no right to do this,” but the reality of the situation is that I, like every one of these people that I have met and will meet in the future I am also a person with his own beliefs, ideologies, values and truths. I am somebody with my own “Normal”.

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However, the difference between Me of Secondary School days and Me of tertiary institutions is that higher institution Me has learned how to understand the background, where people are coming from. Higher education Me realised that people have grown up under a wide variety of circumstances that have influenced their choices of life; thoughts, entertainment, movies, music, beliefs, values, and more. University Me was tired of feeling horrible for thinking such negative thoughts about his loved ones, so he worked hard to sharpen his ability to truly understand other peoples’ perspectives. At this point, College Me has been exercising his open-mindedness muscle for the past 11 years, and is confident that you can now probably talk to him about anything in the world and he will listen attentively and openly, infect in open-mindedness.

Being open-minded is relaxing. Your brain doesn’t go through the stress of racing with judgemental thoughts that make you feel multiple guilt, and you are not aggressively working to hide a instinctive reaction that has been programmed into you for so long.
You must remember that an undrilled open-mindedness muscle is not your fault. It is neither naivety nor ignorance. We are just a product of our environment and of the interactions we have with people around us, so growing up in the same kind of place for our entire lives would certainly put us around the same kind of people who would influence us similarly every day. This is why it requires exercise, practice.

Changing your personality does not reflect open-mindedness, it does not mean that you must change who you are. Open-mindedness is a level of understanding that goes beyond a simple “Oh, I see.” It involves the steadiness in your tone and the patience in your demeanour. It requires asking questions, being genuinely interested in peoples’ thoughts, and accepting people for exactly who they are, differences and all.

Let’s take the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr who says “Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.”

Open-mindedness is generally considered an important personal attribute for effective participation in every field, including management teams and other groups. Open-mindedness does not really mean that you agree with something or takes others’ opinion. Open-mindedness means you are willing to adjust your own grounds, your own conclusions and consider someone else when creating a final verdict. And, sometimes, open-mindedness means that no final judgement can ever exist. The beauty of open-mindedness is that it allows you to find out so many novel things and soak in so many new perspectives, bringing freshness to your being. It allows you to try on many definitions of “Normal” until you settle into one that feels right for you and nobody else. It is on this ground that George Bernard Shaw says: “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” and Frank Zappa added that “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”

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Having Henry David Thoreau’s thought that “It is never too late to give up your prejudices” is a grand step to Open-mindedness.

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