The Pains of Keeping an Open Mind

One thing I have learned more than anything is I need to keep an open mind while traveling. With the things we encounter, the different standards, the people, the different viewpoints. And sometimes that is very hard for me to do. On one level I think I am so good at it – to a cocky level. I like to learn about culture and diversity and history. 

But when it comes to keeping an open mind about core values that I hold so dearly? Core values that I think are impossible to oppose and to talk to someone who believes full heartedly the opposite of what I base my life on? That’s when I realize I’m not very open at all.

We spent Election Day in Belgium! Which was a great experience – looking from the outside into your own country. 

As much as I want to talk about candidates with people I will not on here because I think that sort of discussion is good in person when you can hear both parties out instead of me just rambling on my own little blog…but I did want to talk about things and people we experienced here because I still think it’s an extremely important topic. One article we read from England said this is a changing in leaders for the most powerful country in the world. I think that type of thing needs to be addressed.

Our hostel was situated on top of a little bar. When we checked in they had this poster hanging on the wall behind the desk:

And we knew we had to attend! 

But the night before the election we met two American guys from California. We immediately bonded through a mutual love of the game Settlers of Catan (and if you haven’t played it I highly recommend it) which thankfully the bar had out to play! I think this friendly game together is important to keep in mind. 

During the night, one of the guys asked me what I did and when I said I am a social worker he scoffed and said how I felt about still being one when Donald Trump would be elected.

A comment like that cannot be ignored of course. A lively debate began!

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Everyone’s opinion should be respected though when it opposes your own it’s oh so hard to continue to respect that at times. Especially when it is as drastically different as these guys’ views were from my own. 

At the beginning of the discussion, I was heated – livid with some of the things that were coming out of their mouths.
Donald Trump’s “locker room” talk of women is excusable. Dismissable.
All Muslims are killers.

Those things I have read online but have not blatantly encountered as much in person. I could feel my blood pressure rising. 

But God works in funny ways. I have been praying to be more patient and kind and more than anything I have been praying for better listening skills instead of jumping to the defensive at times like these. And of course, like a good friend once told me, be careful what you pray for because God gives you an opportunity to practice what you pray about.

I took a deep breath and quite literally bit my tongue. It didn’t get any easier.
They talked about how the Constitution mentions protecting the “posterity” of its founders. In their eyes posterity refers to the founders’ offsprings. The founders WHITE offspring. Meaning the constitution only applies to whites. They said that all races should live in their own respective country. That maybe small amounts of people could assimilate to a new culture – but the most important thing is to maintain the culture inherit in each race.

That blacks and whites maybe could live together if blacks assimilated but blacks are just different people and belong with others like them.

It’s even hard for me to repeat any of this because it makes my eyes well up with tears. To see so much hate. So much discrimination. It makes me question what century we live in. Aren’t Americans a melting pot of people? 

But I listened. Painfully forced myself from plugging my ears and turning away. Because these are real people. Real opinions. And ignoring them is not right. They’ll go on thinking this even more so if I ignore it. I chimed in here and there; they clearly knew where we stood. But we wanted to truly understand what made them think this way. We wanted to understand so we could move forward. We wanted to understand them so they could understand us. Because if I want to be understood I need to make that move first. 

See here’s the thing. I fear I may be shutting down discussion. A friend showed me this video that was very eye opening to me. And if you don’t watch it – okay that’s fine but I think it’s a mistake. It’s only like 6 minutes of your life. Basically he states that surprise about the results occurred because democrats shut down discussion. They make people unwilling to say who they want as president for fear of being hated.

Have I been making people feel like they can’t disagree with me? Have I made people feel like they will be hated for having a voice?

Isn’t one of my primary goals to give power to the voiceless? So aren’t people who feel ashamed for saying they support Trump voiceless in a way? 

I don’t know. I think I became removed in the recent months from the power of discussion and the power of differing opinions. There’s never one way to look at things. And isn’t that beautiful? We should look at this as a good thing because how could we as a population progress if everybody thought the same and did the same thing. That’s just a dystopia novel waiting to happen.

It should be good to question ourselves. If we are questioning ourselves we are learning and growing. And maybe questioning ourselves is a nudge that we should take a second look at what we are talking about. I must admit, questioning myself can be scary. Because some things I’ve based my life on. What happens if I’ve been wrong this whole time? And then this lump forms in my throat and it’s hard to swallow, but I reassure myself it’s a healthy scare. That these questions are what should be my new normal. Because sometimes that leads to change and sometimes that just reaffirms beliefs that I have already had. And both options are good and necessary. Life is all about balance.

Here’s a crazy statistic: 60% of voters knew who they were voting for before the main debates even started. That means we aren’t listening to each other. How is this system supposed to work when we are just set in our ways waiting for the other side to budge first? Doesn’t that just sound like a grown up staring contest with higher stakes?

So back to these two guys…

They talked about how they returned to Germany, where their family is from. These guys in particular were born in California but are second generation American citizens with many close ties to Germany still. When they returned they said it felt nothing and looked like nothing of German culture. It has been lost to the refugees who are destroying it. Destroying everything in Europe.

Then I asked them if that’s why they are so angry. Are they mourning the loss of their culture? And don’t they think this could be a momentous change in European culture altogether? But not necessarily bad change?

Yes. They said. Yes they are sad. They don’t want to let go. I can get that sadness. I can understand not wanting to let go of your concept of home and connectedness. But I also think the next step is moving forward and embracing what I see as positive change. A collaboration of communities. Of people. A chance to help each other.

I try to connect people’s problems and issues to things I can relate to personally. How would I feel if my home was being taken away?

Would I feel like the Syrian refugees? Or like these two Germans? It can get boiled down to the same issue – the want of a home. The desire to feel like they belong.
Now can we also get into arguments about who needs to help who? Well duh. But I beg us all to focus on this simplified version. On this simplified problem of home. So we can all understand each other better. So we can empathize with each other if just for a moment.

Because I think that’s how change is created. If I want them to listen to me I must listen to them. If I want love and kindness for everyone, I need to be loving and kind to them even though I see them as racists and white supremacists. They see muslims, Mexicans, blacks as rapists and killers. So to convert their mind I cannot fight hatred with hatred. That just gives them more drive. That just proves their point that the world is a hateful place. I’m not saying this is easy. But I think it’s necessary.

In my opinion, if you preach love can conquer all then you can’t hate people. Not even if they hate muslims, LGBTQ, blacks, Mexicans, everyone. Because fighting hate with hate just fuels the fire. We need to take the bigger step and love even when it’s physically painful. Even when we want to give them the finger and walk away because let’s be real some people deserve that. But what does that solve? It leads to more division. More separation. More hate.

Now I must say I still disagree with all the above comments I heard from these guys. But now I know why they think that. And I was able to leave them with some of my words. Do I know if I changed their minds at all? No. Does that suck? Yes. 

And it should! I’m allowed to be angry and hurt because what they were saying were so very painful. But hate them? No. My anger and hurt can move me towards change. Those are natural feelings that push me to seek a more positive and kind world. Anger holds people accountable for their words and actions. Anger is not hate. Hate is more deep. Hate destroys. And I think we confuse those two words frequently. 

And besides can we really expect change from a 2 hour discussion?

These things take time and effort that cannot happen if we just shut down and walk away when someone says something that we don’t like. We need to wade through those heavy emotions so things can improve. Things cannot be better if we hurdle insults at each other and scream. Who really wants to talk to me if I just call you names and plug my ears?

These guys had some awful comments but throughout an evening they showed me they can actually be good guys too. One just graduated with a genetics degree who wants to work on nature and animal preservation. One sprang to my aid immediately when I fell down and he made sure I was okay. 

I pointed out playing the game together earlier because even though I wanted to punch these two guys in the face for some of the things they said we could clearly find some common ground. A common love of a simple board game. That board game led to laughter between two starkly different people. And I think that is healing. That starts conversations to bring about change. But we just have to listen.

So you can be mad at me for anything I wrote, but I hope you at least choose to talk to me about it because I think there’s so much more to discuss and differing opinions to be heard. 

I would also like to leave one additional plug. With as much emotion as I have witnessed in the past week, I hope you take that and let it drive you to be active in our political system throughout the next four years, and the next, and the next. Even when things return to normal daily life and these emotions become a little faded (as impossible as that seems now) remember to take action. Because there’s so much more we can all do beyond casting a vote. It’s easy to complain. I challenge us all to do more than that. 

So that’s just my two cents. I’d love to hear yours!