Open. I really like this word. It is probably my favorite. It holds within its four letters an invitation, a call, a welcome. Words that mean the same tend to by overt antitheses of its opposite; unlocked, unbolted, unlatched, not closed, unfastened. If we are talking about doors and gates, these states of being are reassuring and logically straightforward. But if we are talking about ideas and experiences, leaving the mind’s gate ajar becomes an important mental construct. It is only when we are open enough to understand another’s perspective that we can find common ground and be a part of making peace and enacting real change. But are we trained for this? Or have we been training to be closed our whole lives? Why change now and how?
From childhood, we are peppered with questions about what we prefer. I remember feeling awkward around these questions and feeling pressure to come up with a quick answer. What is your favorite color? Yellow, the color of Big Bird. What kind of ice cream do you like? Vanilla, because my brother just ordered chocolate and that was the other option. What is your favorite animal? A dog because that is the only animal I had ever seen. The lesson in these early days was to make a choice, take a stand, have an opinion.
In school days our opinions about other people take center stage. Who will be in our friend group? We want to be liked and accepted. We look for people who are like us, or at least how we perceive ourselves to be and draw division lines between ourselves and others. We build our social worlds and our conversations and experiences come out of these like-minded relationships.
As we get older and feel more secure in our choices we venture out into contact with those we have deemed ‘other.” We have arguments about politics, religion, societal issues. But we have learned only to have opinions and to draw and defend boundaries. This arguing only serves to dig us more firmly into our camp. We have not learned how to envision another perspective. We have not learned how to see ourselves in others. At times we hear a faint echo in the back of our head questioning our opinions, our choices. But how do we untangle that web?
First, let’s go back to the ice cream shop. Let’s have the chocolate. Or the peppermint. Or even the licorice! And let’s taste it without judgment. Find out what flavors go together, how…