Saturday, July 18, 2015

Open minded

I've come to the conclusion that no one is truly open minded. To be open minded you would have to erase your mind from the years of biases and beliefs that you collect through your childhood and continue to form as you get older. Sure, traveling, reading, and interacting with people different than you can assist in changing your perspectives but at the end of the day I think we all gravitate towards the familiar and comfortable. I've realized this living here. I am so much an outsider. In my appearance, my language, my beliefs, and worldview. It's obvious 24/7. And frustrating. And exhausting. I have to remind myself that I wanted to be here to experience a place that is so so different from anything I've known or seen.

A couple months ago I was listening to a podcast on changing your mind and how rare it is for humans to change their mind. The podcast highlighted studies on how actually when people are presented with really convincing widely accepted facts that may contradict their worldview, they still don't change their mind. The only times that people may change their mind is when confronted with personal stories, or experiences. Living here has made me realize the truth in this. Lately, I've been getting into interesting but exhausting (and rather unproductive in my opinion) conversations with one of my sincere and sweet well educated (and relative to most Somalilanders well traveled) colleagues about Islam. He hasn't directly tried to convert me but is constantly giving me information "proving" how Islam is true. I appreciate how he's thought through his beliefs, studied other religions, etc. But the conversations are tiring. Perhaps I'm open minded in the sense that I took a course on the Quran during my bachelor with no other goal other than to learn more about Islam. Not to further solidify my beliefs or prove anyone wrong or even change my mind. The class was fruitful and the biggest thing that I got out of it was how the treatment of women and general interpretation of the Quran has changed significantly in one generation to one that in the western view is more conservative.

I've never thought that all Muslims are terrorist or even that the religion is about terror. I was fortunate to spend a good portion of my life in an area that has the largest Muslim population in the US so perhaps this experience helped form my feelings towards the religion. I don't like how to me it still seems to be a very patriarchal religion in many, many countries, but I also know that other religions were equally (and still are) patriarchal. Still I realized living here that probably even if I was given really, really convincing "facts" about how Islam is true, I would likely not convert. I think all of our "worldviews" have intellectual cracks in them no matter how hard we try to fill them in. I'm less interested in facts but more interested in experiences. I've enjoyed learning about the practices of Islam and have tried to gather from my colleagues how these practices make them feel and influence their life. This is more valuable to me than trying to convince me how right they are. Just like I have no interest in pushing my ideas on them. And I think ultimately these kinds of conversations in general are more productive than different groups studying what they want in order to justify their worldviews. Everything I read and take in, I will read with the lens of being female, American, well educated, white, Christian, middle class, feminist, environmentalist, and I suppose well traveled. If I'm honest with myself no matter how hard I try to be open anything I experience or read is going to be filtered through the worldview that I collected over my life. And the same goes for someone from here.

So perhaps being open minded is not so much just about being open to new information (that most of us will often reject if it conflicts with what we already think), but simply having open hearts and open ears. To new people, new experiences, and listening to the experiences and lives of the people that we meet.

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