Cultivating an Open Mind
by Dorene Lehavi, Ph.D.: Leadership Article
On the Values page of my book there is a list from which the reader is to choose values that reflect who they are; the #1 values that if the person didn't practice them, they wouldn't be true to their authentic selves. A value at the top of my personal list is open mindedness. No one can be completely open minded because we are, after all, limited by our upbringing, experiences, personalities, etc. However, I like to remind myself that the possibilities out there in the world, the opinions and values of others are as legitimate as mine whether or not I agree with them.
Have you heard of the parable about the elephant and the blind men?
I came across this in my early teen years, and it often helps me remember to look at all sides. In a nutshell, blind men were asked to describe an elephant. One blind man standing next to a leg felt it and described it as a strong, large tree trunk. I don't remember the exact descriptions, but you can imagine, the other blind men felt the tail, trunk, ears, body, etc. and came up with totally different descriptions of the animal. They were all wrong, of course because the elephant was much more than one of his parts, and each part related to the whole structure in ways the blind men could not fathom.
As I have matured, I have, with great confidence, adopted the often-heard phrase, “The older I get the less I know.” To me, far from the girl who first took the parable to be about the elephant as an exercise, I now replace the word "elephant" with other words such as a group, a relationship, an organization or corporation, a family and ultimately the universe. So "the less I know" represents the entities of the elephant which have grown larger and larger, and in comparison, I am smaller and can only know so much about any of them.
It is strange that this feeling of knowing less has actually added to my self-confidence and well-being rather than taken away from it. We are all blind because we view things only from our individual vantage point. Remembering this helps me keep an open mind. I have my opinions about things, but I welcome hearing the views of others. These views can only broaden my perspective and add to my knowledge base that helps me form, confirm or change my opinions.
One more thing I learned in high school, which addresses this issue another way, is the concept of "selective perception." An example of this is, for instance, if you recently bought a Toyota Camry, you most likely will have noticed all the others on the road since you purchased it. In the same vein, it's easy to fall into the trap of selective perception when you have an opinion. You tend to look for and notice everything out there which validates your position, whether you are aware of doing so or not. It is human nature.
If open mindedness is an important value of yours, you have to catch yourself and make an effort to always look at other possibilities. It's interesting, adventurous and painful because we all like to hold onto our beliefs as the right ones. However, the fun comes when you realize all of our vantage points; legs, trunks, Dumbo floppy ears, snake-like tail can all live in the same universe, and, in fact, when put together, create something much bigger and rather fantastic.
Here's a little exercise: Try not to need to be right and examine other points of view as objectively as possible. If you are always right that means others must always be wrong, and that simply can't be right! Have fun with it and don't take yourself too seriously.
Until next time...
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About the author: Dorene Lehavi, Ph.D. is principal of Next Level Business and Professional Coaching. She coaches Professionals and Business Partners and teaches teleclasses on techniques to break through barriers to the next level. Dr. Lehavi offers a complimentary coaching session so you can experience how coaching can work for you. Contact Dr. Lehavi at DL@CoachingforYourNextLevel.com, or on the web at www.coachingforyournextlevel.com.
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Dr. Dorene Lehavi has more than 25 years experience as a professional assisting clients to reach their "Next Level." She holds a Master's degree from Hunter College and a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.
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