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Open Minds

December 19, 2011

A close friend had tickets to a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. She had heard the piece many times, understood its technically perfect musical construction, Schubert as an individual, and the background to the piece of music in Schubert’s repertoire.

Unfortunately at the last-minute she was unable to go, so passed the tickets to her friend. The next morning she texted her friend to see if he had enjoyed the performance, and instead of a few plausible comments and nice words, she received the following unexpectedly long text message:

  • For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. Their number should be reduced and their work should be spread over the whole orchestra, thus eliminating costly, unwarranted resources and peaks of inactivity.
  • All of the twelve violins were playing identical notes. This seemed unnecessary duplication and the staff of this section should be cut drastically. If a large sound is really required this could be obtained through an electronic amplifier.
  • Much effort was absorbed in the playing of semiquavers. This seems an excessive refinement and it is recommended that all notes should be rounded up to the nearest semi-quaver in my view. If this were done, it would be possible to use trainees and less talented players (presumably cheaper wages) and also reduce the time taken to complete the entire symphony.
  • Finally, no real purpose is served by repeating with horns the passage that has already been played by the strings. If all such redundant passages were eliminated the concert could be reduced from two hours to twenty minutes.
  • If Schubert had attended to these matters he would probably have been able to finish his symphony after all.

What do you think? I had to admit I wouldn’t expect such a damning critique, I would have thought he would have been more open-minded. However, in saying that, what’s interesting is trying to understand the other person’s point of view and how their perspective can be so fundamentally removed from your own.

We can all jump to wrong conclusions far too quickly by just sticking to our own point of view, without standing back and considering another person’s perspective.  A blind man on a galloping horse can appreciate the context of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, but be honest, how often do you make a quick, knee-jerk judgment when a more reflective and open-minded approach would provide a different perspective? Often we believe that we have all the answers and carry on without a sideways glance. At the same time, if we do let others’ points of view change our judgement, we often consider it to be a climb down and sign of weakness – so we don’t do it as a matter of principle.

Being open-minded can be really tough sometimes. Most of us are brought up with a set of beliefs, values and strong self-respect, and throughout our lives are confident in our own judgement and ability to make decisions. We tend to think we’re right! It can thus be difficult when faced with other people’s ideas that challenge our own and, though we may wish to be open-minded, we may struggle to embrace it from time to time.

I’d like to say I’m a fairly open-minded person, but, like most people, I do have some pretty strong views about specific topics and can be dogmatic, pedantic, inflexible, cynical…. and find it hard to sway from my opinions no matter how energetically or forceful others might try to persuade me. Of course, I fully believe that having strong beliefs is a good thing, but having strong beliefs doesn’t have to mean having a closed mind.

Though it can be tough to do sometimes, I’ve always found that when I open my mind and consider another persons views,  I’ve reaped a lot of rewarding benefits. There is much to be gained from opening the door to your mind and letting new ideas and beliefs come in. Here are just a few of the benefits I’ve uncovered when I’ve taken the time to see the world around me with an open mind.

  • Letting go of control. When you open your mind, you free yourself from having to be in complete control of your thoughts. You allow yourself to experience new ideas and thoughts and you challenge the beliefs you currently have. It can be very liberating to look at the world through a different perspective, new ideas allows you to the opportunity to change what you think and how you view the world. Now, this doesn’t mean you necessarily will change your beliefs, but you have the option to when you think with an open mind.
  • Making mistakes. Making mistakes doesn’t seem like it would be much of a benefit, but it truly is. When you open your mind and allow yourself to see things from others’ perspectives, you allow yourself not only to recognize potential mistakes you’ve made, but also to make new mistakes. Doesn’t sound like much fun, but it’s a great thing to fall and get back up again.
  • Strengthening yourself. Open-mindedness provides a platform on which you can build, piling one idea on top of another. With an open mind you can learn about new things and you can use the new ideas to build on the old ideas. Everything you experience can add up, strengthening who you are and what you believe in. It’s very hard to build on experiences without an open mind.
  • Gaining confidence. When you live with an open mind, you have a strong sense of self. You are not confined by your own beliefs, nor are you confined by the beliefs of others. For that reason, you are able to have and gain confidence as you learn more and more about the world around you. Open-mindedness helps you to learn and grow, strengthening your belief in yourself.
  • Being honest. There is an honesty that comes with an open mind because it means admitting that you aren’t all-knowing. It means believing that whatever truth you find might always have more to it than you realize. This understanding creates an underlying sense of honesty that permeates the character of anyone who lives with an open mind.

Whether or not you consider yourself to be open-minded, you can certainly see from the list above that there are great benefits to viewing life with such a mindset. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but the effort to think openly and embrace new ideas will be worth it when you’re able to take part in the benefits that come from opening your mind.

Insisting on being right has the awful consequence of transforming us into the person we don’t want to be – we become arrogant, self-righteous, and sanctimonious. Our narrow-minded and know-better-than-you attitude drives people away. It’s not only people we drive away, but we also drive away knowledge, we slam the door on new ideas. One of the greatest thinkers of our time, Edward de Bono, said The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas. It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong than to be always right by having no ideas at all.

When someone expresses opinions that differ from yours, there is good reason to stop and listen. After all, you could be wrong! Our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs also need changing. Sometimes they need to be replaced. Other times they merely need to be broadened or improved by commingling the ideas of others with our own, we reduce our need to always be right. But as we grow increasingly interested in DOING right, rather than BEING right, we boost our confidence and self-respect and are no longer dependent on others for our own happiness.

So, always try to be open-minded. When others speak, don’t look for points to disagree with, but look for wisdom that you can add to your own. The open-minded see the truth in different things, but the narrow-minded see only the differences. We need our differences, for they provide us with more options and possibilities – but the journey is from arrogance to tolerance, ignorance to enlightenment, accepting and respecting the fact that there is always someone else’s point of view.

Without an open-mind, we can never be a great success. We can’t all be experts on the differences between the way people think, but we don’t have to be. By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out, all we have to do is respect others and abandon our need to be right.

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