Are you actually as open-minded as you think you are?
August 28, 2019
Do you ever catch yourself being less open than you think you are? Certainly, we would all like to believe that we are enlightened beings who are open to the differences in the world. At least, I want to believe I am open to all differences. However, every once in a while (if I am being honest with myself) I catch myself being closed to other people’s lives, opinions, and perceptions.
I remember a number of years ago I was a panelist on an LGB (Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual) panel in a classroom at Indiana University. The other panelists and I were asked to introduce ourselves by stating our name, age, what we do for a living, and our sexual orientation. I had been doing panels for years, and this process was familiar to me. I introduced myself with all the relevant information, including my orientation, which is bisexual. I listened with interest to my fellow panelists’ introductions.
Some I had met before. Others were new to me. I always love hearing anyone’s story, as I find that each of us is fascinating and illuminating. However, this day I remember being shocked when I heard a young man describe himself as pansexual. It was the first time I had heard the term and was interested to learn how this person defined it for himself. And, to be perfectly honest, I was highly critical right from the beginning. First of all, how could there be a new label added to my alphabet soup LGBT community?
The more I asked and listened, the more I learned that from my perspective there was no difference between pansexuality and bisexuality. Keep in mind this was my perspective at the time. Looking back, I realize I was not as open as I wish I had been. I actually appeared and sounded quite closed to this other person’s perspective. Why couldn’t he just use the term bisexual? So much for my great appreciation for individuality.
It took me some time, but I was able to come around and appreciate this new term. Pansexuality is the sexual, romantic or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. It almost felt like I was a guard to the LGBT club, and when I heard something foreign that didn’t fit my picture, I unconsciously dismissed this person’s perspective.
Have you ever had an experience like this? I don’t think I am the only person who has been closed and less curious to other views of the world.
Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to Austin Channing Brown speak. Brown is a leading new voice on racial justice and author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. Listening to Brown, I was struck by her honesty and straightforwardness. I immediately liked her style. I appreciated her sharing her perspective of what it was and is like for her to be black in America.
For example, she explained the moment she learned as a young child that the world is designed for white people: her white teacher told the students that it was important to wash your hair every day. The reason why this lesson inadvertently taught Brown that she was different is because it’s not healthy for black people to wash their hair daily, since the texture is different from that of white people’s hair. As a white woman who used to teach, my response was “Who knew?”
I absorbed Brown’s perspective like a sponge because it was illuminating and helpful if I want to understand and appreciate people who are different from myself. That being said, I heard from a few white attendees that they were put off by Brown’s style of presenting and possibly the information she was sharing. Their response was similar to mine when I was on the panel a number of years ago. They were more closed than open, and felt they knew better than the person delivering the message.
It takes real work and mindfulness to attempt to greet the world daily with an open mind and heart. It’s not easy for a number of reasons. First, we are biologically programmed to feel comfortable with those who appear similar to us and wary of those who appear different. This is a survival skill from thousands of years ago. However, it is important to note that seeing “otherness” and feeling wary is not a fixed state. As I said previously with mindfulness and intention, we can rewire ourselves to see the benefits of diversity and community.
Secondly, it’s easy to believe our perspective is the only and/or right perspective. After all, we are all a bit egocentric. Therefore, observing people who are different, who have different opinions, or who act differently can feel uncomfortable, especially if we don’t have parents or teachers in our lives who actively celebrate diversity.
Tension exists when any of us are confronted with anyone or anything that challenges our view of the world. The tension represents the discomfort. However, that discomfort is also a very real sensation that occurs when we perceive the individual we are and the individual we could be. We unconsciously see our own humanity, habits, and biases. We see that maybe we are not as open as we believe ourselves to be.
Interestingly, the tension is not bad. In fact, it is good! Nothing in the history of the planet has ever gotten better without some tension. I think we might all be better off if we started embracing the tension instead of sweeping it aside.
- What if we chatted with our neighbors with whom we might disagree about any number of topics?
- What if we encouraged ourselves to try to stay open, to be curious and more willing to learn about our neighbors and ourselves?
- Isn’t it possible that we could grow as individuals? Isn’t it possible that our growth could help create a more united community? Isn’t it possible that we may begin to bridge the gaps that currently exist in our society?
- How open do you feel?
- Would you like to be more open?
- Are you currently experiencing some divisiveness in your interactions with others?
- If you would like to explore this, know that I am happy to listen and support you in the process of becoming more open.
Even though I have not read Austin Channing Brown’s book, it is definitely on my “to read” list. Let’s all pick it up and have some conversations about it! I just found out that Austin Channing Brown will be joining Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach in Indianapolis for the Together Tour on Sunday, October 20th! So excited to get the chance to listen to her speak again!
What do you do when your electricity goes out and you find yourself needing some light? Do you light a candle? Do you grab a flashlight? Luci lights are a wonderful product that Kim and I discovered years ago in Zambia. The beauty of Luci lights is that they are solar powered. So, put them in a place in your house where they can get charged daily. Then, when a storm hits, you are ready with hours of light and no mess. Plus, this company is awesome because every time they sell a Luci light, they send one free to places in Africa. This allows children to do their homework at night. They are an awesome product! Check them out!