So I had a rather abrupt conversation today with someone – a person I had only just met – that reminded me that open-mindedness (which I interpret as a receptivity to new ideas and information) isn’t as common as I had perhaps thought. I’m not saying that an open-minded person needs to agree with everything that she hears, but there should be a willingness to at least hear the other person out – especially when we do not see eye-to-eye with the other party.
Jesus modeled this very well when He walked the earth. Despite being harassed on a fairly regulary basis by the religious elite (Pharisees and Sadduccees), He usually let them have their say, and then would respond with a lightning bolt of such spiritual and intellectual magnitude that He fairly knocked their socks off. The same principle holds true for the ways that He engaged with His disciples when they expressed unbelief, fear, or overzealousness. He usually responded with a simple story (a parable), or often countered with a question of some sort that invited the other person to think more deeply about the issue on the table.
The people who were perhaps most well known in the Bible for their open-mindedness were the Bereans. We read these simple words about them in Acts 17:
Put another way, they listened and then they looked – doing their own research to find out if what they heard was in fact the truth. They were open-minded, but not naive (a naive person believes nearly everything he hears, while the skeptic is quite the opposite). I believe that open-mindedness sits somewhere between these two poles, and great wisdom and discernment are needed in order to separate truth from what simply appears to be right or true.
Anyway, back to today’s conversation. I was amazed at how speedily the other person made sweeping judgments about me as a person based on a few minutes of conversation, and was fairly hasty to discount my perspective on things. Why? Based upon her experience – ‘ol human wisdom strikes again – she assumed that she knew best. That her way of thinking must be right.
And who knows? Perhaps she was right in the end. I think what bothers me, though, is the rapidity with which she made her decision – the very opposite of the thoughtful and deliberate approach modeled by the Bereans in Acts 17. I was simply discounted and dismissed (not a great feeling, by the way).
I harbored no counterargument with her. What would be the point of doing so? Once I gained insight into the way that she thought and made decisions, I realized that such an effort would be futile at best. She in no way, shape, or form came across as being open-minded, although I believe that she made an attempt to appear as if she were doing so.
Today’s episode gave me pause, because I have been the “other woman” in this conversation more often than I would like to admit. How frequently do I give the impression of being truly open-minded, without actually being receptive to new people, ideas, and experiences in my own heart?
I’d like to think that I’m like the Bereans, and I believe that more often than not, I am. However, I definitely have my days when I’m more like the dismissive woman from today, assuming that I know best.
As I said before, the whole encounter gave me pause.
So whether you are a Christian or not, I encourage you to embrace a Berean mindset – listen attentively, ask good questions, and seek the truth out for yourself. To do anything other than this makes others feel small and insignificant, as this woman made me feel earlier today.
And do you know what the ironic thing is? By the end of the conversation, I really do believe that she thought she had helped me in some way. My impression was much less favorable. I was grateful for the experience, though; I will redouble my efforts to be open-minded, and will also remember to be extra careful with my words. So in some small way, I suppose that the woman helped me, although it likely was not the way she intended.
Dear Lord, forgive me for the times when I have been careless with my words and have wounded others. You know that this is not my heart, but as I realized today, unless we intentionally monitor our thinking, feeling, and doing, we’ll all too easily slide into a spirit of closed-mindedness.
I thank You for this experience, as it reminds me to listen well, and to let my words be – comparatively – few. And when I come across new information and experiences that challenge some of the established ideas that I hold dear, I can remember to seek out the truth for myself (particularly the truth of Your Word), rather than responding solely on the basis of my emotions. This is wisdom! I thank You sincerely for it. In Your name I pray, Amen.