The folly of closed mindedness by Dr Seuss
There were Sneetches with stars, and there were Sneetches without. And the little Sneetches with stars were told not to play with the Sneetches without, because they were different, not as “good,” not as worthy. And so those little Sneetches grew up with their prejudices. One day, a “scam artist” came along and put stars on the Sneetches without them. No longer being able to tell themselves apart, the Sneetches with the original stars had theirs removed – God forbid they might by mistake associate with those lower class dwellers on the beaches. All day, the scam artist made money putting stars on and taking them off, until the money was all gone. Then he left, saying, “They never will learn. No, you can’t teach a Sneetch.” The folly of closed mindedness indeed.
What are Your Prejudices?
Whether it is the food we have never tried, a member of a different ethnic group we refuse to associate with, or the fear of the “unknown,” we all grow up with our prejudices. They are within us, and they keep us from opening up new “worlds,” from experiences that can enrich our lives. The folly of closed mindedness is that it makes people resistant to change in a changing world – ultimately they become irrelevant. And they lead lives void of critical thinking and sound reasoning, not to mention frustration. On the other hand, people who are open minded have the following traits:
- They accept diversity as a valuable thing – an opportunity to learn. Diversity in the workplace, for example, leads to a better discussion of solution options and new ideas which can enhance any organization. It also leads to much greater tolerance outside the workplace.
- They tend to be more optimistic. Change happens. When people are open minded they embrace change and see the wonderful possibilities.
- They have far less stress. Instead of freaking out because a family of a different ethnicity has moved in next door, they go over, greet them, and find value in the diversity that has come to the neighbourhood.
- They want to learn – and that learning opens all kinds of doors for a richer life.
How to Develop Open Mindedness
If you feel as though you have been a bit “sheltered” all of your life and have not been exposed to people, places, and things that are not in your “growing up” environment, then it is definitely time for some change. We, humans, have a tendency to hang with people in our neighbourhoods, to make friends with certain groups in high school and college with whom we feel comfortable. Even when we start our careers, we gravitate toward the “known.” And those comfort zones make us feel safe and secure. It’s time to get out of that box and put aside the folly of closed mindedness to see what the rest of the world has to offer and here are 7 steps you can take to do just that.
1. Try the Unknown
You can start with small things. If you have never eaten Indian food, go to an Indian restaurant and order some up. Graduate to some bigger activities. If you are a Christian, attend a service at a Jewish Synagogue or a Mosque. Ask someone who is of a different ethnicity or religion to go to lunch with you, and get to know them. You may be quite surprised to discover that they have the same aspirations and many of the same values that you do.
Take a course you have always been a little afraid of, even if you do it online. There are so many free courses now offered by major universities, you will be amazed at the selection.
2. Question Your Negative Opinions
If you have always felt negative about a particular sport, a neighbourhood, fitness fanatics, vegetarians, a certain kind of music, or certain types of people, why is that? What evidence do you really have to feel negative about that thing or person? Is it the folly of closed mindedness? If your evidence is simply a “belief” from what others have said or a value you have grown up with, it’s time to find out for yourself, isn’t it?
3. Try to See Things from Other Angles
We know the old saying about there being “two sides to every story.” Well, often there may be more than two sides, and we should always try to look at events, situations, lifestyles, and cultures from as many angles as possible. Is your way the best way and the only way? As a society, Americans have a tendency to believe that their way of life and their way of government is the best. In fact, that has gotten us into a war or two in modern history.
What do you know about the government and the society of Switzerland? Their democracy and way of life are quite different from ours, and they probably believe that staying totally neutral in any world conflict is best. When we invaded Iraq, were there people around the globe that felt we were taking that action solely to control the oil in the country? And how much do Middle Easterners believe that that is the reason for our continued presence there?
When we develop empathy, that, is, seeing things through the eyes of another, we will get a different perspective. We may not agree with others, but we have a much better understanding of them.
4. Make Education a Lifelong Thing
The more you learn, the more open-minded you will be. It is hard to remain “closed” when you subject yourself to new ideas, new skills, and to the study of other peoples and cultures. Learn how to do new things. And a critical part of learning is reading – reading a much wider range of things than you do now. Read a type of fiction you would not normally choose; read non-fiction books, blogs, articles, news items. The more you are exposed to the ideas of others, the more open-minded you will become. And the more your beliefs, values, and opinions will be based upon fact.
5. Start Saying “Yes”
The next time someone asks you to go to a symphony concert or the opera, say yes. Or if you are a classical music fan, go with someone to a rock concert. If you are not into physical exercise, go on a bike ride when asked. If you avoid meeting new people, accept the next invitation to go to a party with a friend – you never know! Usually, we say “no” because we don’t want to move out of our comfort zone. We like being the Sneetch with the star and really don’t want to explore what those other Sneetches might be like. Ask yourself why you are saying “no” to an invitation, and, if it is only because it might make you feel uncomfortable or because it puts you into a new situation, say to yourself that you will try it just this once.
6. Lose the Judgment
Very often, people who are close-minded have a tendency to judge other people. That judgment stems from ignorance in most cases, not from a rational, well-informed opinion. Of course, we judge truly bad people – terrorists, rapists, and such. But before you judge that person in front of you in the grocery line with his/her food stamp card, stop. Are people on food stamps all just lazy and unwilling to work, or is there another story there? You cannot judge anyone accurately unless you know their story. And, in fact, judgment, in general, is just not a good mindset to be in.
7. Get to Uncomfortable Places
Do you turn down offers to assume responsible roles at work, church, PTA, or neighbourhood associations because you think that you lack leadership skills? Do you avoid going out to eat by yourself because it makes you uncomfortable? Staying “in your box” is certainly safe, but you will not grow there. Your box and your mind will both stay closed. The best way to open that box and climb out is to identify 5 things that you would really be uncomfortable doing and, one by one, so them.
8. Hang Out With Someone Totally Different From You
Years ago, there was a movie called “The Breakfast Club.” Four teens from totally different cliques had Saturday detention and had to spend a day in the school library, supervised by an Assistant Principal who went to the janitor’s closet to drink. The four started out criticizing and judging one another. As the day wore on, they got to know one another and began to realize that they were not so different at their cores, and, even better, they all came to understand how and why the others were as they were. There is a beautiful lesson in that movie, and everyone should watch it once a year.
And the Sneetches? Well, as the end of the story goes:
But McBean was quite wrong. I’m quite happy to say
That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day,
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars
And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.