Jell-O Salad–Part I
My mind is open.
No, really, I’m open-minded. I’m a liberal, I recycle, I take reusable bags to the grocery store, I have long conversations in coffee shops about politics and never leave hating the person I had the conversation with….I am the one that is unfriended on Facebook when the discussions gets heated because others can’t handle my point of view, but I can certainly handle theirs!! (yes, I am patting myself on the back as I type this—which is not as easy as it might sound). What could all of that mean if it does not mean being open-minded?
And then, by God, I realized that while these might be qualities I associate with being open-minded, I didn’t really have a clear definition of “Open-Mindedness”.
Logically, I turned to Webster: open-mindedness was clearly stated in five words–“Receptive to arguments or ideas.” Voila! That very definition shouted my name! YOU ARE OPEN-MINDED! Applause! But, like a suspenseful episode of Fringe, I knew that the search could not end there. Who had these arguments or ideas that I was supposed to be receptive to?
I decided to turn to Google. I diligently typed in the word “Enlightenment” and hit the search button, pretty sure that photos of the Dalai Lama, Voltaire, and myself would pop up. What I found, instead, were phrases that made me proud to be human, phrases like “during the Enlightenment there were a group of thinkers who consciously sought human advancement through logic, reason and criticism.” And these were quickly followed by a graphic description of how these people were killed by communities that we can all safely assume were, um, well, close-minded. It seemed that the open-minded people of the past were always taking uncomfortable stances among people that didn’t want to hear them. History is pretty consistent and concrete in its illustration of the idea that people don’t want their ideas and beliefs (their status quo, if you will) challenged.
Webster defines the “status quo” as the “existing state of affairs.” We all have one, you know. Boys and girls can have the same one. I like to see others, and I like to hold to my own, most of the time. And while my status quo has been evolving since I distanced myself from Christianity, I pretty much decided that now I was so open-minded that a Status Quo no longer applied to me because I am an adult. An open-minded adult. And to be and open-minded adult, well, that, that demands that I challenge my Status Quo.
I sat and fondly remembered the days of my youth when my Status Quo was being born and started to grow up. Status Quo and I were born into a house where the LDS religion was already accepted as true. There was already a way to view the world in place, and it was awesome. I got to spend Monday nights with my family, go to church for 3 hours ever Sunday, and no one in my family was addicted to alcohol and forgot to take care of me. Even if I had wanted to take my Sundays and go grocery shopping instead (because it made more sense—no lines, fresher produce) there was no way I could have challenged the Status Quo I was born into. I was only 2 weeks old, I couldn’t have challenged that. I was only 1, I couldn’t challenge that. I was only 3, I was only 5, I was only 12, I was only 16…I had no choice, but to accept that the ideas presented by my family and my little Utah community were the prevailing ideas and not a whole lot of people were sitting around on social media saying “Hey, my brother is gay and I think maybe he has a right to get married, this is really challenging my Status Quo.” I didn’t know they existed, let alone that they could be challenged.
During the time in my life when my mind was most malleable, I had no choice but to rely on two human beings to tell me what the world was made of and how it operated. I had two people.
Two people out of six billion.
Yes, it’s a shocking thing to reflect upon. Out of six billion people on the planet I had access to ONE SINGLUAR point of view!! OMG.
My brain sort of made a buzzing sound and then steam started coming out of my ears. It happened while walking through IKEA; no one was injured.
My brain wasn’t making sense of any of this. I decided to pull out a food metaphor because those always help me feel better than life. I walked past the perfectly crafted ergonomic office chairs and thought about my life. If ideas were individual dishes on a table full of food—a smorgasbord, if you will—then I had only had one dish available to me for my entire life! I realized that I had to eat the Jell-O salad or I would starve. Actually, I thought anything other than Jell-O salad was bad for me. Nothing nourished like Jell-O salad. Jell-O salad was true.
However, if there is only one dish on a table, then, my friends, it is not a smorgasbord. And, if you are not given a choice of eating different foods, then you are being force fed someone elses’s bias, even if those people are really loveable parents who gave you a bunny when you turned 8.
Since most of us are born to one set of parents, it’s safe to assume that we all grow up with one unchallenged set of ideas—labeled as “Ultimate Truth”. And as children we are incapable of challenging this. Ergo—we are all born with a status quo: bias.
So, I got this bias, but I really want to be “open-minded”. There’s the rub.
I came to the conclusion that at the end of the day, all my beliefs have to be put on the table. If 2 plus 2 REALLY does equals 4—then the number 4 needs to stop being afraid of being challenged. Like Carl Sagan said, “The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.”
In the real world, you don’t get the facts unless you invite challenge into the room. You must be open to the task of challenging. We’re human and we equate challenge to uncomfortable feelings and anger. People get mad at me when I challenge their status quo. They unfriend me on facebook and tell me to stop being “anti-church” when that had nothing to do with anything. But challenge has become, at least for me, the way of ruling out a false positive.
Thus, in IKEA…next to the lamps…I figure out that I have to be intellectually honest with myself about how open-minded I’m willing to be. Am I just going to defend my dish ONLY? Am I going to kill other dishes just because they are different from mine? Am I going to unfriend dishes that I think make my dish look bad? No, I say! No. I vow that every potluck dinner I attend I will give every dish credibility, I will challenge them and try them and keep challenging my status quo if I am going to be allowed to call myself “open-minded.”