~Don’t be a hypocrite. If you wish others to be open minded, open your own mind.~
I have a little confession to make—I don’t like one-way streets! In all my years I never have been able to settle upon even one good reason for their existence. Apparently the system was first introduced to London in the 1600’s, yet it was William Phelps Eno who brought this annoyance to the modern world.
Honestly, Eno did make many contributions to public safety. Still, I find it comically ironic that the man responsible for today’s one-way was a member of the Skull and Bones Association who never learned to drive for himself.
Now don’t fret, I have no intention of using this blog to rant my opinions on traffic control. But there is something about one way flow that coincides with my forthcoming theme. See, Eno wanted to confine traffic to a unidirectional stream in order to promote safety, and in a way, psychologically, the same idea is at work across all divisions of society.
Hmm. Is your think tank filling?
Good. But first let me tell you a story.
A few years ago I did something that I’m ashamed of—something that contradicts my own internal values and that I keenly regret to this day.
I worked with a particularly sweet lady at the time who was scheduled to retire at the end of the year. Having been raised as a conservative Christian with an evangelistic outlook, I was keen to find any opportunity for sharing truth. So I wanted to give her something that would be both personally and spiritually meaningful. I chose a beautiful copy of The Desire of Ages—my favorite book on the life of Christ and nestled it in a gift bag.
My coworker seemed thrilled, immediately gushing to me that she also loved Jesus and she had a book she would like to give me in return. The next day when she brought me her book however, I quickly noticed it was published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have nothing against Jehovah’s Witnesses mind you, but believing my own church to be true, I had no inclination to read an alternative viewpoint. So the book sat untouched in my room for a full year, after which I ended up moving, and I’m ashamed to say, I threw it away.
There were many times I wondered and wished and prayed that my friend had read the book that I considered so significant. But each time the hand of my conscience slapped my proverbial face, reminding me that I had not considered her book worth reading. I had no right to expect her to care about what I had offered when I hadn’t cared enough about what she had. Whether I expected the book’s contents to be true or not is irrelevant.
You see, I had an acquired bias. And the thing about biases is that it doesn’t matter how accurate they might be. Bias is a smudge on the lens of the mind, warping and blinding our vision—alienating us from any who view reality from another perspective.
This is precisely what I see running rampant in society, whether the issue is personal, social, political or religious. Even under our claims of open mindedness and tolerance it still persists unaltered.
It is a mindset that is manifest in a plethora of ways, and yet all boil down to an essence of carelessness, arrogance, and fear. Carelessness because we don’t deem other perspectives worth the investment of our time. Arrogance because we foolishly think that there is nothing worthwhile to be added to or subtracted from our viewpoint. And fear because we are emotionally attached to our viewpoint and feel threatened by the potential ramifications if it is found to be flawed.
Rather than embrace the tension of opposing traffic, we like to keep our internal and external world in a neat, one-way stream where we are “safe” and comfortable—and stuck.
There’s a phenomenon I’ve observed on several occasions lately which I believe is poignantly illustrative of this societal disease. Individuals will be involved in a conversation, perhaps on the telephone, perhaps on a Facebook thread. The common denominator is that they will have already made up their mind on some issue, and they will actually state that they don’t need to hear or don’t care to hear what you have to add to it or challenge it with. If it is a thread, I have actually seen them say “I’m not even going to read what you just wrote.” Yet they will proceed to repeat and elaborate on all that they see and believe from their own standpoint, continuing to believe and declare it unassailable.
What a condition of oblivious arrogance!
How can anyone think they are justified in responding to something they have not even heard? If you refuse to hear what is being expressed in a conversation, then you have effectively disqualified yourself from participating in that conversation. Period full stop.
And the same is true of all life’s conversations, life’s interactions—life’s reality.
How can we expect everyone else to examine what we have to offer when we don’t care to examine what they have?
Every vehicle has blind spots, and the viewpoints of others can be like mirrors, helping us to fill in a complete picture.
It isn’t even necessarily that we are incorrect in what we see, but that our conclusions about the full landscape of reality can be incorrect based on what we do not see. Decisions we then make based on these conclusions about reality can alter the trajectory of a conversation, a relationship, or even a life.
With an infinite amount of information in the universe we are always in a position to advance in learning. We can never claim to be in possession of the entire length and breadth of truth. Not that we can never be certain; but our knowledge of truth advances. Furthermore, if people do not challenge their own beliefs, they can never advance in learning. If we do not regularly stretch our mindsets, then we are destined to become mentally calcified.
How is it that we came to find our truth in the first place? It was by considering, examining, testing and experiencing.
If anything, the more sure you are of your beliefs, the more willing you should be to examine alternative viewpoints. Truth is not threatened by alternative viewpoints.
If you are fearful or indifferent to thoroughly exploring other beliefs and opinions, then you truly ought to examine yourself and the integrity of your own worldview.
I’m not saying that our position on things always needs to change. But either way we have no right participating in any conversation that we are unwilling to really hear the other side of.
Going back to our traffic illustration: research shows that vehicles stop less on one-way streets making it more difficult for cyclists and pedestrians, speeds tend to be higher, and motorists pay less attention to those speeds due to the absence of conflicting traffic.
What if we are also speeding down one-way tracts in society—in danger of running people over yet hardly able to stop, reflect, and potentially redirect ourselves?
I want to also highlight that from a religious standpoint I know there are many believers in various faith’s who are warned against reading or hearing material from outside their own religion. At the same time, these individuals are encouraged to proselytize others to their doctrines. When these people read or hear anything about another belief system it is usually from someone speaking to refute it. If we are to be logically consistent, this is neither fair nor sensible. We should not be afraid to hear other sides of the conversation. We should not be inconsistent, expecting others to listen to us when we are not willing to mutually share.
“But examine everything carefully; (then) hold fast to that which is good;”
1 Thessalonians 5:21 NASB
1 Thessalonians 5:21 NASB
Only in this way will we truly be able to have a meaningful conversation with the world.
To drive well one must know more than simply how to follow a one-way course. One must understand how to interact effectively with opposing traffic. Eno invented himself a one-way but never really learned to drive. Let’s not make the same mistake.