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.”



I'm an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.

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20 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    I loved reading about your journey with open-mindedness. I admire it. I’d like to think that I embrace open-mindedness as well, but I think I’m probably only open-minded in some ways. I am not very open-minded towards racism, sexism, homophobia, torture, etc.

    There are a handful of lines in the sand I have drawn — one of them being that if an idea/teaching suggests that I (or women in general) am less than fully human, then I personally question/reject it. That doesn’t mean I can’t have a civil discussion with others who would disagree with me, but that’s just a topic where I know that I personally have limits and that I am unwilling to embrace ideas which contradict women’s full humanity.

    Your post also made me think of the choices we make as parents when we raise our kids. I’m hoping that I can show my kids that there are a number of different but wonderful paths to choose in life. I’d like to take my kids to other churches occasionally so they can see that there are good sincere non-Mormon people who are doing God’s work. I’m hoping I can model a kind of Mormonism that is willing to entertain questions and doubts. But it is tricky — I understand the impulse to confine and shape my young to the path I want them to take, but there are risks to that approach, I know. I suppose I’ll be learning by trial and error.

  2. Jessawhy says:

    I love this post!

    In an effort to get philosophical, it appears that you are privileging open-mindedness as perhaps your highest virtue. What about others who privilege following God’s law as their highest virtue? Or proselytizing?
    Open-mindedness to them seems like something to be shunned, perhaps.

    How would you explain why open-mindedness should be privileged above other virtues?
    (I agree with what you’re saying, of course, but I’m trying to think of why someone would not want to be open-minded, or maybe just pay lip-service to it, but not really follow through)

    On another note, I found myself telling a friend the other day that I now spend most of my time with people who agree with me. I gasped aloud. That’s not what I should be doing! That’s not what I want the “others” (those who disagree with me) to be doing. It was very unsettling.

    • Stella says:

      Jessawhy, I would say the following to anyone who had the same question as you:

      (in response to: “In an effort to get philosophical, it appears that you are privileging open-mindedness as perhaps your highest virtue. What about others who privilege following God’s law as their highest virtue?”)

      Hm. Interesting question. But first, a clarification. I didn’t actually use the term ‘virtue’, to describe open-mindedness – partly because ‘virtue’ carries baggage. Webster says-

      1. moral excellence; goodness; righteousness.
      2. conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.
      3. chastity; virginity: to lose one’s virtue.

      I would call my open-mindedness a ‘practice’. I choose to practice open-mindedness.

      That way, it’s not connected to a ‘moral’ system, but rather a simple acknowledgment of how my inquisitive brain prefers to operate. That said, I cannot make an apples-to-apples comparison between my choice to question/investigate/challenge the world around me, and anyone’s choice to follow a system of rules based on the belief that an all-powerful supernatural authority commands them to. At the end of the day, we have the freedom to choose any way of seeing the world and ourselves in it. Proof or no proof. Faith or no faith.

      I can only assume your choice is the one that makes you the happiest, and I would never force you to choose my path. As long as you’re content and I’m content…we’ve both found winning philosophies. Yay!

  3. Fran says:

    Pure awesomeness. Both IKEA and this post.

  4. Deborah says:

    “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.”

    Yeah, I’m still working through this realization. It’s fun to daydream who I would have been if, given the same DNA, I were raised by Buddhists, or Reform Jews, or talk-in-tongues Pentecostals, or nominal Presbyterians. Its sobering, raising a daughter. I want to give her grounding without grounding her. Of course her dad came from a very different worldview as a child, so I’ll see what she makes of our hybrid life . . .

  5. Love your analogy that limiting yourself to only an LDS point of view was like choosing to eat only Jello.

    I think your experience of arguing against your former faith after choosing from a wider perspective of ideas is typical. Thank you for sharing your journey to a more inclusive POV.

  6. DefyGravity says:

    Love this! It really is staggering to think that we spend most of our lives exposed to only a few thought processes, when there are millions out there. Without exposing ourselves to a wide variety of ideas, how can we know that the ones we hang on to are really the ones that work the best for us? Once we realize how many ideas there are, it can be really exciting to think of all the things we can learn! But many people are afraid of all those possibilities, because rethinking your world view is not easy. But I don’t see that clinging to one set of values without exposing ourselves to other options is a virtue. If your world view is the best for you, it will stand up to scrutiny. If it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, then it probably isn’t the best place to be.

    • Stella says:

      To me, that’s the beauty of life. I don’t blame my parents for anything. I love the way I was raised, but it’s been such a lovely journey for me to discover my own thoughts and feelings too.

      • DefyGravity says:

        Agreed. Parents raise their kids the best they know how and their view has merit. And it’s fun to get to the point that you can move beyond it and find new views to explore.

  7. Two of Three says:

    1. I think you should write a book. I would buy it.
    2. For some reason, I am thinking of “free agency”. We talk of free agency. We are grateful for free agency. We included it in our abundant lessons. But the only thing we are “allowed” to choose is the Jell-O. I feel cheated.

    • DefyGravity says:

      “But the only thing we are “allowed” to choose is the Jell-O. I feel cheated.” I’ve often felt the same way. We say so much about the freedom to choose, but there is only one right choice… Strange.

    • alex w. says:

      Ooh, that #2 rings all too true for me. My dad thinks Jell-O is the only good thing in the world and that I need a lot of it; who knows how he’ll take it when I tell him I haven’t had any Jell-O in a while and don’t miss it. :\

      • Stella says:

        I love this thread. And I’d love to write a book, but it would probably be more about discovering sex after I left Jell-O behind. That was fun.

  8. spunky says:

    Very clever post, Stella! I think the Jello ideology is not limited to the church; I think of Native Americans with such diverse religious, social, and dietary culturalisms, yet all seem to be falsely branded into a singular “Indian” stereotype that is derived from 19th century penny novels. In that, we have missed out on significant intelligence, beauty and diversity that could bring us so much more joy than then imaginary judgement we are forced to consume. I think that whenever we limit ourselves– in religion, art, culture, food, politics, geographical area, etc., then we do not allow our minds, spirits and thoughts to develop rationally as well as empathetically.

    So– did you end up buying anything at the IKEA?

    • Stella says:

      Why yes! I got some frames for some of my photos and some shelves on the wall…I almost bought a couch, but I’m still debating.

      And I agree. I think there is beauty in finding what you love and holding to that (having pancakes on a Sunday morning, for example), but I also think that the richest moments of my life have been when I’ve gone outside my comfort zone and learned something new.

  9. Jessica says:

    I love this post. But I think stepping into the void can be scarry. And having the desire to do it is rare. Especially in cultures that do not encourage it and make it fearful. I have felt the need to learn and step into the void. And when I was praying about it felt that on the other side of the fear is incredible light and joy.

  10. Stella says:

    Thanks Jessica! I agree. It’s scary because we’ve seen so few people actually do it. However, once you get to the other side, it’s is pretty light and joyful! I’d never go back at this point.

  11. Gabriellie says:

    Can’t wait to read more of your post and I am really impressed with this one…Thanks a lot!!

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