“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”
― Frank Zappa
Please forgive my long absence. As you know, I have been struggling with the loss of my younger sister. Grief is a strange thing. It is slipping in the rain. You blunder, you waver and just when you think you are in command you fall flat on your face. There is a moment before you land that you accept the inevitability of the catastrophe. It is a moment of fear and then comes the searing pain. Grief is the same. Only, the moments are slower and longer. It has taken me weeks to get off from the proverbial floor. I am not ashamed to say it took professional help and much love from my family.
Why the explanation?
I am sharing all of this with you because my experience is deeply rooted in our next topic, open-mindedness.
As we discussed before, we all have a belief system that governs our perspective. The question, however, is what happens when we are confronted by information that threatens those beliefs? What do we do then? For me, I lost my identity when I lost my sister. Who am I if I am not Marisa’s sister? Well, I am still a wife and a mother and a daughter and a blogger, but somehow the roles altered after my sister’s death. Why? The shock, the trauma, and the loss; it has changed me. My outlook on life, death, belonging and time has evolved. I had to open my mind to a new future and a new self that does not include my sister.
New World Views
COVID Lockdown transformed all of us. No one will come out of this experience unscathed. We all had to re-evaluate our belief systems. There has been a difference of opinions about every element. The transference of the virus, the lockdown procedures and all its rules and restrictions. I would imagine that along the journey you changed your mind about the crisis in one form or another.
Two scenarios make it easier to be open-minded. The first is when new information confirms your underlying convictions. For example, if you believe a stringent lockdown procedure is essential you will be more willing to accept other measures such as curfews. The second scenario is when new information is not critical. For example, you enjoy traditional malva pudding but you are willing to try chocolate malva. Unless Malva pudding is where you draw the line. Then this is a bad example. They can take your alcohol and cigarettes, but they can never take your Malva.
A true test of mind over matter
Therefore, the true test of open-mindedness is when fundamental beliefs or values are challenged. This usually takes place in chaotic circumstances. Events outside of your control. This is when open-mindedness has a chance to shine as a strength.
Peterson and Seligman (2004) suggest that to be open-minded one needs to be able to observe situations from all stances and think carefully before drawing conclusions. As you have experienced, this is particularly difficult during a time like this Pandemic. You would have noticed; prejudiced people are unable to perform this strength. What is worse, their bias becomes more apparent during stressful times. Even those of us who are striving to live positive and tolerant lives must consistently monitor ourselves to prevent bias from inadvertently rearing its ugly head.
I had to temper my intolerance towards people with hysterical reactions. I had to remind myself that from their perspective their fears and actions were justified. I should rather focus on my own behaviour and reactions because positive resilient living is contagious. You change yourself. That is how you make a difference in the world. As your influence grows, changes will occur around you spontaneously.
Be open not gullible
Now let me point out that there is an important distinction between open-mindedness and blind acceptance. It requires strength to be open-minded. It takes courage to access new information and adjust your value system accordingly, or not, depending on how you accessed the data. The importance lies in the willingness to review the information.
To use my favourite example of Winnie the Pooh, Kanga is the character with the greatest control over this strength. When Rabbit kidnaps (Joey-naps) her baby, she is quick to see the situation for what it is. A prank! By playing along with the ‘joke’, she wins over all the animals in the forest and gets her baby back. Her ability to perform this strength is what makes the other characters admire her so much. Her influence affects all her neighbours. This is the consequence of strengths in general.
Are you trying?
The real question is how often are you truly open-minded? Do you review several sources of information or are you prone to being influenced by mass opinion, or worse, so steadfast in your ideas you do not even consider conflicting information? Do you quote the media, or do you do your own research? The reverse is equally dangerous – disagreeing just so that you do not appear mainstream. Yes, unfortunately, this adolescent logic is upheld by adults too. Whoopsie, is that my bias coming through? Again, we always need to be cognisant.
Therefore, this is my challenge to you. Pick three things you believe about the Corona Virus or Lockdown and actively search for articles or publications that argue against your beliefs. Read them with an open mind. I am not saying change your beliefs. I am just asking that you review conflicting information in a value-adding way. In other words, be open to the idea that it may alter or adjust your belief system. I would love to hear how you experience this experiment.
I was convinced that lockdown was a terrible idea because it put the most vulnerable at more risk as they would be the ones forced to go into work. They are the front-line health care workers and the people at the grocery tills. I now see that lockdown did slow down the disease but at a great economic cost. I have not changed my opinion entirely, but I do see now that I was wrong about being dead-set against the lockdown.