Top Three Values: Part III - Open-mindedness
Earlier this year, I was asked to do a “values” exercise and identify my top three values. What I came up with was the following:
These last three months of 2023, I’ve been digging a little deeper into each of these values and thinking about why they made it to the top of my list. My intention is not to convince you they should be your top values, but to share with you my process for getting there and how I’m going about incorporating them into my life and work. It will hopefully give you a road map for finding your own top values and finding ways to practice them.
Open-mindedness is a quality that is easy to aspire to… until it isn’t. In practice, it can be very challenging. President Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas, in The American President captures it well:
“You want free speech? Let me see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.”
True open-mindedness means not just tolerating but welcoming other points of view and opinions that make you uncomfortable. Instead of putting people into boxes, open-mindedness requires you to suspend judgment and look for the complexity in others. I’ll admit, I often make assumptions about people based on what they are wearing, who they associate with and opinions they’ve expressed. When I can set my first impression aside, I usually see something much more nuanced, and often learn the reasons for why they see the world the way they do.
Furthermore, when I can respect and accept another person’s point of view, they typically respect and accept mine. It has led to relationships, friendships and partnerships that would have otherwise been impossible…and sorely missed.
I have a friend, who sees the world very differently than I do. We differ on politics, social issues, and many other topics including homeopathy, of which she is a dedicated practitioner. Because of this she is opposed to vaccines, and when the COVID vaccine became available, she chose not to get it. While some people blatantly chose not to get vaccinated as giant F-U to science and the government, my friend’s reasons were rooted in principles she had long held. As much as I disagreed with her, I found that I could at least respect her choice. And frankly, her actions had no real impact on our friendship.
Until, that is, my wedding was approaching. It was 2021 and the Delta wave had just swept through. Andrew and I had decided to require people to be vaccinated if they wanted to come to the reception, which would be indoors and people would not be masking. We believed it was the best decision for everyone involved.
I dreaded having to tell my friend this. We had known each other nearly ten years, and for all our differences, she had given me work I needed income, respected and supported my community work and had been an all-around great friend. We had shared thoughtful conversations, juicy gossip and lots of laughs. I really wanted her to be there to celebrate our marriage. But I also knew she would not compromise and get vaccinated even for my wedding. (Nor would I have asked her to.)
I sent her a text explaining our decision and anxiously waited for her response. She completely understood and offered to do a rapid test right before, but stood firm that she wasn’t going to get vaccinated. I was tempted to waiver, but I had other people I was accountable to.
In the end, we were able to meet in the middle. I asked if she would be willing to just come to the ceremony and skip the reception, and she agreed to wear a mask. My friend got to see me and Andrew tie the knot and even captured this photo on our way out of the church:
What does open-mindedness mean to me?
Listening before speaking
Giving people the benefit of the doubt
Being curious instead of judgmental
Having faith in humanity and kindness
Risking disappointment to achieve more trust
What does it allow me to do?
Learn more about others and myself: When I’m willing to suspend my judgment, I get to know people and topics I never thought I could connect with.
Build stronger relationships: When I take a chance on someone, I am rewarded with seeing the good in them: Humor, compassion, intelligence, experience, and vulnerability.
See hope, not despair: Each time I am pleasantly surprised by something or someone I might have dismissed, it makes me want to find more opportunities like that.
Resources and Inspiration for open-mindedness: