7. Open Minds Matter

The author Philip Pullman once wrote:

I’m for open-mindedness and tolerance. I’m against any form of fanaticism, fundamentalism or zealotry, and this certainty of ‘We have the truth.’ The truth is far too large and complex. Nobody has the truth.

Well said sir.

My experiences at home and abroad have shown me the importance of open-mindedness and tolerance, and have encouraged me to wander off the beaten path when I can. Not only to keep life interesting, but also to understand in a meaningful way that things do not look the same from every vantage point.

I’d like to say that ‘open’ is now my default state of mind, but in truth I can’t. It’s something I have to work at every day.

Have a look at this photo.

What was your first reaction to it? What judgement did you make about the man? How would you feel if he approached you?

I found the picture on a stock photography site called Unsplash. It was taken by Donald Teal, a photographer working in Arizona.

Here’s what he wrote in the photo information section:

We met during an art fair. Upon inquiring, the gentleman indicated he marked himself to create space between himself and others. "I don't want people to get too close", he said. He later indicated, without specificity that he had been hurt deeply many years ago and his tattoos were a way to keep people at bay. He consented to my image creations, and since that day our paths have crossed a few times, and he smiles at me as if to invite me closer. Nice man.

Now look at the photo again. Do you feel differently now?

The trouble with having an open-mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” 

― Terry Pratchett, Diggers

Mr Pratchett knew a thing or two about human nature. Children have the most open of minds. Their absence of opinions, beliefs, and ingrained behaviour allows them to be curious, unrepressed and….well, open.

But all too soon well-meaning adults come along and start putting things into their heads, filling them up with their own opinions and beliefs. Before too long the inevitable happens and open becomes closed.

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has ignited passions around the world these past months. Personally, I’m not convinced it’s the right way to go. Don’t get me wrong, I understand as much as any white man can, that historical disrespect and mistreat of those with black skin continues today. But those who call themselves black have no monopoly when it comes to disrespect, mistreatment and worse. It’s a pandemic far more destructive than Coronavirus. Ask the Kurds or the Rohingya, look at Syria, Sudan and Bahrain.

Some have proposed that ‘All Lives Matter’ would be a better rallying call; I agree. But guess what? Suggesting such a thing has attracted yet more anger, resentment and rejection. Ironic eh?

So I know I’ve strayed into dangerous territory here. That’s part of the problem I guess. Black and White. Right and Wrong. Closed minds will always look at the world that way.

But open-minded people don't care to be right, they care to understand. There's never a right or wrong answer. Everything is about understanding. And to my mind more understanding is what the world really needs right now.

Open-minded people embrace being wrong, are free of illusions, don't mind what people think of them, and question everything, even themselves.

One of the points that all wise men and women agree on is this: If we want our world to improve, we should work on ourselves first. That’s where the significant gains are to be found. Focusing on the inadequacies of others, or the unfairness in the world, is often just a trap of our own making as we resist looking in the mirror.” 

― Joseph Deitch, Elevate: An Essential Guide to Life

Earlier I said that being open-minded was something I have to work at. Some find it easy, I don’t. I was brought up in a closed-mind environment. My conditioning was thorough.

Perhaps the scariest things about admitting that you see the world through an open-mind is having to make yourself vulnerable. 

Back in 2017 I blogged about Mediterranean migrants. Hundreds of men women and children were drowning while the G7 leaders wined, dined and glad-handed in Italy. Even photos of drowned children washed up on beaches failed to stir them into action. I was pissed off. I suggested that the life of a sub-saharan origin child was worth just as much as that of one from the UK. I suggested that no-one should be allowed to drown at sea.

Perhaps I was a bit naive putting those thoughts out into the world.

Within hours the nasty comments arrived. I was told I had no idea what I was talking about. They said that people like me were a danger to civilised Western society. They asked if I was a Muslim lover.

That experience showed me clearly how vulnerable being open-minded can make you.

So be cautious, be aware that the closed-minds will come out fighting at any suggestion they don’t own the truth, that they may be wrong. Arguing with them is pointless, they won't listen.

Because listening is the gateway to an open-mind. And I mean really listening, not just politely letting words wash over you, while focusing all your attention on the next opportunity to jump back in with your all important voice.

Don’t make listening a chore. It doesn’t have to be hard work. Make it fun. Make it a game. Make it a treasure hunt. What could be more interesting than discovering new things and increasing our powers of perception? Listening is a never-ending journey along an ever-improving road.” 

― Joseph Deitch, Elevate: An Essential Guide to Life

Trying to be more open-minded is a worthy goal, one that improves the world.

Open-mindedness is a foundation on which to build. With an open-mind and an open-heart you can learn about new things, build experience.

So go build.

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