On Friday morning I parked next to a car, in the grocery store lot, sporting a bumper sticker with, “A Closed Mind is a wonderful thing to lose.” Of course, that caught my attention! When I went back to my car, there were two women sitting in the car so, I knocked on the driver’s window (I know, I know, people don’t usually go around knocking on other peoples’ car windows), and I told the driver how much I appreciated that message. We got into a conversation; she showed me a small pin with another one of her favorite quotes; and we had a less than five-minute discussion about life. I never think it’s “random” when I meet people like her. I believe I’m being presented with a chance to interact and an opportunity to grow or share or learn.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the definition of closed-minded is: “intolerant of the beliefs and opinions of others; stubbornly unreceptive to new ideas.”
We often close our minds to the possibility that there are ways of viewing the world that are different from what we were raised, or what we choose, to believe. Intolerance is rampant, and this inability to accept views that are not personally held, is played out daily in schools, offices, places of worship and, also sadly, homes.
Once we become comfortable with, and “own”, a belief we dig our heels in; we simply don’t want to hear or be challenged to consider any other points of view. Since we believe “that’s the way it’s done”, or “that’s what’s SUPPOSED to be” we can’t support other ideas. What if we realize we were WRONG all that time? What if we have to actually tell someone we “opened (changed) our mind” to another possibility?
Because we walk through life with a worldview that we’ve adopted as “right”, we often don’t think about what messages we’re sending to the next generation. We don’t recognize the enormous power we have to profoundly impact the way the children we interact with see the world.
There’s been significant research done on geese and ducks and how they “imprint” at birth. From what I understand, as soon as one of these birds is born, it KNOWS that it’s the same species as whatever moving creature, larger than itself, it sees first. It doesn’t simply think it’s the same, it doesn’t look for another duck or goose after the novelty has worn off, and it doesn’t pretend to “be” that other species, it simply knows it IS.
Although not as profound as with geese and ducks, researchers believe that imprinting is an important part of human interaction as well, and one way that we pass on our culture. In 2010 Dr. Rick Nauert talked about a study where children not only did what their parents did, but also copied everything including simple details. Wow, talk about the significance of every little step a parent makes at home!
We learn to eat the same foods, dress in the same styles, root for the same teams, watch the same shows, use the same language, hold the same values, and make the same judgments. After all, when a child is young who else would she mimic other than the adults she sees regularly? When Mommy always stops and gets down to her level to gently answer a question, she learns that is appropriate behavior. When Mommy throws a bag out the window or makes fun of someone else, she learns that’s appropriate behavior as well.
We teach by example. If we see our “role models” acquiescing rather than standing up for something or themselves, that too (just like throwing trash onto the highway) becomes “the way we do things”. Every behavior and expression is being processed in some way, including closed-minded ones.
Infants become toddlers. Toddlers become school age children. School age children become young adults. Young adults become parents and the cycle continues. What are we teaching?
Being closed-minded doesn’t always mean that there’s negativity expressly shared (it’s just couched in “I’m proud because”). You’ve probably run into plenty of parents who think that their children can do no wrong (whether they’re adolescents or adults), or people who walk around touting THEIR religion, occupation, political opinion, or lifestyle, as the one (and only one) that is “RIGHT”.
My friend, Sue, has a brother named David. David has Down’s syndrome. When David was born in 1964, many children with this condition were institutionalized. Sue’s Mother was told that “she’d given birth to an ‘idiot’ and that he would never be able to do anything for himself”. The “experts” said that “institutionalizing him would be the best”. Dolores didn’t buy into that. She took David home, she loved him, taught him, challenged him and nurtured him. David is now 50 years old. He has a full life and a LOT of people who love him, and HE adds so much to those peoples’ lives. Dolores had the choice to listen to the closed-minded folks who wanted her to simply choose their way. She didn’t. Amen to that.
When you have a prejudice, you place judgment on or have a (typically negative) preconceived opinion about, something or someone before you even know all the facts. We can be prejudiced and closed-minded in so many areas: ethnicity, nationality, gender, social class, political affiliation, sexual preference, weight, age, education, religion, disability. Prejudice and stereotyping often go hand-in-hand because once we have “stereotyped” a group of people we have closed our minds to the possibility that “they” could be anyone else.
My brother, Bob, died when he was forty. He was diagnosed with his first brain tumor when he was sixteen. Can you imagine? In the middle of high school, his life changes forever. Bob was an amazing person. He beat the odds so many times. He lived a life that had a lot of challenges and pain, but he never said, “why me?” Because of prejudice or closed-mindedness, a lot of people didn’t see him the same way after his body betrayed him. Bob taught me a lot. He taught me to never see someone, who looks different from me, and make a judgment about that person. He taught me that having a handicap, of any kind, isn’t what makes you “different”. (I believe we ALL have handicaps it’s just that for a lot of us, they aren’t as “visible”.) He taught me that there are different ways to walk through life with grace. He taught me that there’s a balance between having a loving heart and handing over your power. He taught me to recognize the beauty in each day. He taught me to sing no matter how off-key I am. He taught me that an open mind is a wonderful thing to have.