Being Opinionated yet open-minded

September 22nd, 2015 by Marlo Haas

I used to sit very clearly on one side of the proverbial fence, whatever the issue. It didn't matter what was said from the other side, I wasn't moving. No way. No how. For no one. My strong convictions drew me to a career that challenges injustice, unfairness, bias, inequality. I dived in with gusto (do we still use that word?), but doubt started to creep in. I was sure of what I was doing but why couldn't everybody see that? Why were some people arguing so forcibly against my views? Couldn't they see I wanted what was best for everyone? Around that time, Reginald D Hunter was performing his stand up show in Edinburgh. As well as bringing the audience to tears with laughter, he was also very provocative, asking the audience how we could be so sure we were right in what we think. An example he gave was the many people living in the Middle East right at that moment who thought exactly the opposite of what we do - were they all wrong? His challenge rattled around in my head for days after and it got me wondering about the situation on the other side of the fence. How different would I think if I was sat over there? So I started to listen. I mean really listen, not just in a 'I will look like I'm listening so you hear me out when I start to disagree' way. What a revelation!

Opening up more to people's varying viewpoints has showed me there is no right or wrong side of the fence and that planting your bum down with your eyes closed, fingers in your ears while singing, "La-la-la-la-la... I'm not moving... la-la-la...!" really doesn't help anyone. So stepping into the shoes of someone else is great for developing empathy and challenging your perceptions. All good, right? What happens though, when you can no longer see your own side? When there is always an alternative view that you can't help but be aware of, how do you keep the courage of your convictions? This is where I find myself. No longer on one side of the fence or even 'on the fence' but stuck in a rut of jumping over the fence and back. And back again. It's a lonesome place to be. Struggling to identify with a group because they think/feel one way about something, but not being able to join the other group for the same reasons, means it has become difficult to establish close connections with people. I could, and have tried, to tell myself that there needs to be a voice of reason - but seriously, as compelled as I am to point out the other side to someone's opinion, it's pretty obvious that's not the quick way to acceptance and connection. But hold that thought.

Recently, while researching for a programme, I was sucked into the endless trail of links on the internet. It was turning into a typical surfing session that ends way off topic with a migraine and a sense of dissatisfaction at having wasted an hour or more of life (just me?). Just as I was reaching the point of deep regret for having started this search in the first place, along came this article, 'To Deal With Highly Opiniated People, Give Up Being Highly Opinionated'. Two significant points; 1) we are ALL highly opinionated people, and 2) engage with someone with the intention of agreeing with them. How unbelievably simple, but for me, so profound. 

By focussing so much on getting others to be more open-minded, have I become more closed-minded in the process? Undeniably, there are times when I listen, not to better understand but to find ways to be better understood. Well, I'm going to give it a go; engage with the intention of agreeing. I need to move away from the fence. I don't want to hang out by fences anymore. They may encourage listening but it's just a step along the path to really listening. That's what we should be striving for. In my high and humble opinion.


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