Monday, October 13, 2008

Opening my Mind

I consider myself to be an open-minded person. I pride myself on it, actually. But what does it mean to be open-minded?

Surely it means that I would never deem myself fit to judge or stereotype someone based on their race, religion (or lack thereof), sexual orientation, gender, gender orientation, national origin, age, size, etc. And, for the most part, I think I live up to that.

But I've realized, in this ugly election year (as if there's ever been one that wasn't), that my open-mindedness wasn't extending to people whose political beliefs differed from my own. It's so easy to get caught up in the "us versus them" mentality associated with politics.

I suppose, if I wanted to be easy on myself, I could say that I believe all of the aspects of self listed in the second paragraph are things over which we have little or no control, whereas our political affiliation is something that we choose for ourself. So I won't judge you on something you were born to, but I guess it's ok to judge you for the decisions you've made.

But is it?

A well known quote from Aristotle states that "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it". I've always liked that quote. It fed nicely into my open-minded ethic.

Recently, however, I found myself embroiled in a couple pretty hot political debates - a place I didn't want to be. And while my worthy opponents were spitting the word "liberal" like it was the most loathsome cuss one could ever possibly utilize, I was mentally spitting the word "republican" with equal venom. We were both being quite unfair. The gentlemen who had engaged me in this lively debate were asking me to speak for the whole liberal movement. I can only speak for myself. But it wasn't only them. I was throwing around some ill-advised "you republicans are all the same" speak myself. If only in my (maybe not so open after all) mind.

It got ugly fast, because neither side was willing to entertain a thought without accepting it.

So I'm making a vow to be truly open-minded. I'm going to listen rationally to the arguments of people with whom I fundamentally disagree. I'm not going to have the knee-jerk reaction that everyone who doesn't see things the way I do is a narrow-minded idiot. (this is going to be difficult for me - so wish me luck and have patience with me when I inevitably fail once or twice)

I had sort of built a little cocoon for myself. I've surrounded myself (for the most part) with like-minded people. I seek confirmation of my own opinion. I hang around with people who support my views, I watch news and entertainment that skews liberal (fair and balanced is a myth), I read books and articles that support my opinions and seek blogs that back me up.

I need to rectify that, if I am to truly be able to claim that I am open-minded. I'm not likely to change my mind about anything. My personal beliefs are pretty strong. But I'm going to be less dismissive of opposing viewpoints. I'm going to be brave enough to entertain thoughts without accepting them.

I'm Tammy Howard, and I approve of this message.


Bass Is Life said...

When someone is spitting venom at you, it's difficult to not want to spit back. I'd say that's human nature. You are very much like me - non-confrontational. In a situation like that, I tend to walk away. If I can't walk away (like at work), I try to ignore the situation or change the subject.

I frequent a blog that supports my religious (dis)beliefs in an attempt to keep on top of the current church/state separation issues. The comments section is often riddled with posts by trolls with nothing better to do than spew such venom at us "heathens". I know the screen names of these individuals enough to know to just keep scrolling without reading. Am I doing myself a disservice? Should I wade through the acid and insults to try to entertain their position?

The more I witness these subjects being debated by politicians and civilians alike, the less I think anyone is getting anything out of it. They are not going to change my mind any more than I am going to change theirs, so what's the point in trying? The thrill of the fight? I have better things to do.

Bass Is Life said...

I do remember a time when, if not completely changing their mind, you did successfully encourage someone to rethink their position.

We were discussing same-sex marriage, and you told the story of a person you knew who was miserable trying to fit within heterosexual norms, and how after they came out of the closet and found a partner, they were never happier. You stated that you could not envision God asking someone to live in such a miserable state when happiness was so easy to achieve. This person responded that they never thought of it like that before.

So, while I was insisting on an argument based on secularism, you presented an argument that spoke to them, forcing them to reconsider their stance. I suppose that makes all of the arguing worthwhile.

Tammy said...

Thanks for that! I remember that conversation well. I've had students in my diversity class say "I've never looked at it that way before", too. It's a nice feeling. And there have been times when I've been the one saying it, too. I guess the key is to keep a calm head. which seems easier for EVERYone to do in a non-election year.