“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there,” Rumi.
I once read a story about a man on a subway train who became angry at a father and his misbehaving sons. The two young boys were creating a commotion – jumping up and down, darting from seat to seat, making noise – while their seemingly hapless father looked on.
Eventually, the father turned toward the irritated man and apologized, explaining that he and the boys were returning from the hospital where his wife had just died. Wearily, the father said he didn’t have it in him to discipline his sons.
I can’t recall where I read that story. (My apologies to the author.) But it’s served as a long-standing reminder to soften my judgments and wrap them in a blanket of open-mindedness.
Who knows what trouble has befallen someone in a foul mood? Who knows what thorny path someone has taken to reach a firmly held belief?
It’s not easy to air out our assumptions and consider alternatives. Doing so seems all the more difficult in a culture of political polarization, and outrage porn where brash, tweeted, posted, or broadcasted opinions often compel us to cling more tightly to our own.
But open-mindedness is a bridge to a better understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us. It also fosters dialog, collaboration, and tolerance.
Open-mindedness – or the willingness to consider differing ideas, opinions, and perspectives – is more than just an attitude. It’s both a skill and a mental allegiance. It’s also a hallmark of mindfulness.
Being open-minded doesn’t mean we abandon our principles. Instead, it means we’re willing to hold them up to the light, and like a piece of stained glass, see their colors more clearly.
Saffo advocates holding strong opinions, weakly, and then intentionally challenging yourself to find contradictory information and data to shape a better conclusion. He explains how to do so this way: “Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect — this is the ‘strong opinion’ part. Then –and this is the ‘weakly held’ part– prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit or indicators that point in an entirely different direction…” https://medium.com/@ameet/strong-opinions-weakly-held-a-framework-for-thinking-6530d417e364
In other words, entertain – even if only for a moment – a contrasting perspective and let it guide you to a deeper conception of what’s valid. Think of open-mindedness like a key that unlocks a door to what you don’t yet know and what you might learn about another person, a scientific or political theory, a problem or a situation, or yourself.
Another story that relates is coming to mind: I recently met a woman who loved to travel to remote places. Her husband didn’t enjoy this, but at times he tagged along. When he went with his wife, though, he stayed in the hotel, tethered to the familiarity of having breakfast in his room, reading the paper, or watching television. I wondered about the experiences and discoveries he missed as he huddled in his hotel room while his wife explored a foreign country.
I like to think of open-mindedness as a form of intellectual travel to a remote village. Doing so takes a willingness to leave home and be uncomfortable. But it’s also an adventure. And who doesn’t like a bit of adventure now and then?
On My Mind
It’s always good to have a poem in your pocket to lift your spirits or entertain you while your waiting in line at Trader Joe’s. For the past few weeks, I’ve been carrying around one from Derek Mahon as a reminder that maybe, someday in the not too distant future, things will take a turn for the better.
Everything is Going to be All Right
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the daybreak and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
DerekMahon,from Selected Poems
Gratitude comes in many forms – in quiet prayers, we say before bed or in loudly shouted party cheers. For Elmarie Du Toit, it came in a long line of clapping from students who applauded her retirement after 50 years of heartfelt teaching. Watch the video below, and you might feel a bit of gratitude as well. http://twitter.com/FrankieFire/status/1290550516011892736