Hundreds of years ago people believed the earth was flat. Back then it was common knowledge. Anyone who said otherwise was ridiculed. If you lived during that time you would also think the earth was flat.
Then some wise, mathematically inclined people came along and found proof that the earth was in fact a sphere and not flat. Of course they were laughed at by the masses. The masses were so grounded in their beliefs that they wouldn’t even consider giving another perspective a chance. The earth was flat, no question about it.
Then slowly but surely more proof was presented and more people were convinced that their view of the earth had been wrong all this time and the earth is indeed round. Not many years later the masses were convinced that the earth is round and this become the common belief. Now, anyone who would say the earth is flat was crazy. Even though our society and the human as a species is more evolved since then, we often still fall in the trap of “flat-earth-thinking”.
How often have you had a discussion where all logic and all proof pointed to you being right, but the other person still refuses to see your point? Or maybe you have experienced it the other way around; you refused to believe some one else’s argument, until some miraculous moment you “give-in”, and you see that you were wrong all along and the other person was right. Can you remember what that felt like? For it was always a bit of a mixed feeling, where it is hard to admit the other is right and you are wrong. But overall there is something refreshing about it. It opens up new possibilities.
The ability to truly be open to different perspectives than your own is a vital skill to have if you want to live a more joyful life. It is a skill all great leaders have to some extent. Nelson Mandela was a master at this. In his book, Long Walk To Freedom , he mentions hour long talks and discussions where he was quiet most the time. He mainly just listened, ready to receive the perspective of the other, regardless of his opinion. Because of that he completely understood what the other people desired (both friend and foe). The positive change he made for his country and even the world still have their effects now. Apartheid wouldn’t have (officially) ended if it wasn’t for the leaders’ abilities to adopt a different perspective from their own.
Of course we aren’t all president, but there is still reason enough to be open to new perspectives.
Here are some day-to-day situations that can happen if we carry an open mind:
– Arguments and fights disappear from your life
Most, if not all, fights and arguments are based on misunderstanding. Arguments continue to go on if you are stuck in your own beliefs and do not allow yourself to truly see the situation from another perspective.
The change comes when you are able to put yourself in the shoes of the person you are arguing with. Let go of your own beliefs for just a moment and look at the situation through the eyes of the other. You might come to the conclusion that he is right after all and you are wrong.
Or maybe it’s the other way around. What will you do then? Will you keep pushing your argument down the others throat? Perhaps in the beginning, I mean, objectively speaking, you are right after all. But after a while, as you become better at this, there is something else that arises: understanding. Understanding is the key word in all this. More than just getting their argument, you see where the argument comes from, what has shaped it, and why they so eagerly want you to adopt it too. The are actually just like you were before you changed perspectives.
– Great discussions and conversations arise
This understanding arrives together with a sense of calm. Arguments and fights just disappear because you see the futility of them. Instead they turn into great discussions (if the other person is willing to change his perspective too). Otherwise there is everything right with just walking away from the situation. In peace this time, not in anger.
When you meet a person who is truly open to another perspective you will have the best conversations in the world. One of my best friends comes from a very different background than I do, we have been raised with different morals and our values lay apart quite a bit. Despite these differences, we have always been open to this and willing to change our perspective. His skill of trying to understand someone else is incredible and in turn has lead to many great discussions and of course a great unforgettable friendship.
Below are a few guidelines to follow if you want to give it a shot. (These are usefull conversation skills too!)
– Let the other person finish talking before you say anything. So don’t start talking as SOON as they are finished. This just shows that you are “politely” waiting untill they finish so you can talk.
– Recap what they said. This does two things: 1. It shows that you are trying to understand the other person. 2. It’s a test to see if you really got the message, maybe you misheard a part?
– When you have a quiet moment imagine yourself to be in the shoes of the other person. In your mind, look at the situation through his eyes. Does it make sense? What does he mean by “xyz” ? Doing this in hindsight makes it a bit easier than when you are in the heat of the moment. After a while you will be able to do this on the spot.
As with any skill, you become better at it with practice.
In the end it is not about who is wrong or right. It is about getting ahead together.
How open are you to new ideas? Are you willing to let go of your “flat-earth”?