Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kasey's Rules for Achieving World Peace

Everyone wants to be open-minded. This trait, defined as "a receptiveness to new ideas or the opinions of others," is essential to discourse when people disagree - without the ability to receive new ideas, no understanding can be reached. Yet, it is one of the most misused, misunderstood terms in the English language. A mistaken belief that one is open-minded can be a profound hindrance to meaningful interaction with others, and is certainly damaging to advocacy efforts.

Having an open mind does not mean believing that another person's position may be equally valid with your own. If that were the case, being "open-minded" would be as good as having no convictions at all. If you don't confidently believe your position is the right one, then you should be doing the necessary research to find the facts of the matter. When I talk to someone about my religious belief, my vegan ideology, or the right way to make a cup of tea, I believe what I'm saying is correct because I've examined that belief and determined it to be so.

To be open-minded is not to adopt a "to each their own" mentality and refuse to engage in discourse. That benefits neither you, nor the person with whom you disagree, which is contrary to the point of advocacy and in some cases could be quite harmful. If people had said 'to each their own' about the harm caused by smoking cigarrettes, for example, how many more people would be dying from their harmful effects today?

So what is an open mind? Simply put, it is the ability to accept that not everyone sees as you see, feels as you feel, believes as you believe, and still treat them with respect. And perhaps more importantly, not to judge them on the basis of your differences. 

Belief is as individual as a fingerprint. Select two random people who share any belief system and question them, and you'll see the differences emerge. Perhaps what they believe is the same, but why they believe it, how they feel about it, how they approach it, what about it is most important to them, this may be different. All beliefs are unique to the person, because belief is universally informed by frame of reference. The great assemblage of circumstances that brought you to a given belief is yours and yours alone.

What this means in practice is that to be open-minded, you cannot judge a person by the things that they believe in, even if you believe those things are wrong. To be open-minded is to evaluate the person's frame of reference, learn why they believe as they do, and accept them as they are - whether or not you are able to convince them of their "error." To accept does not mean to like, approve, or agree - simply to acknowledge what is.

Unfortunately, many of the people who consider themselves open-minded, tolerant, liberal thinkers are as likely to make judgments based on belief as the people who do not. I can't even number the many times people have assumed, based on the fact that I'm Christian, that I'm uneducated, uninformed, anti-science, dogmatic, hate-mongering, or a host of other religious stereotypes. This is no different than the many times, based on the fact that I'm vegan, that people have assumed I'm judgmental, angry, off-kilter, and hungry. I'm not talking about jeering loudmouths on the street making these assumptions. I'm talking about the same rational, progressive-thinking groups of people who would be appalled by a racist or homophobic remark. I'm talking about people who pride themselves on being tolerant. So why do we not see this as intolerance?

The fact is, there are certain groups of people our society says its okay to judge, and often who those groups are depend on which side of the line you stand on. Christians openly judge non-believers; non-believers openly judge Christians. Carnists judge vegans; vegans judge carnists. We have seen how productive this sort of adversarial relationship is, which is to say not productive at all. To be open-minded is to refrain from judgement. To be open-minded is to view each person as an individual, and even if you abhor some belief of theirs, to recognize that their belief does not define the whole person.

Only in this way, by letting each person tell their own story of belief, by examining their frame of reference and motives, can we ever hope to create change.

All of this philosophizing is simply an introduction to Kasey's Rules.

Here are the things I won't do to you:
1. I won't trust other people's negative opinions of you. I'll find out for myself what you are like.
2. I won't judge you because I don't agree with your beliefs, or the choices you make, or your relationships.
3. If I don't care enough to really get to know you, I will be careful not to influence the way others view you.
4. I won't make up my mind about who you are and refuse to see you any differently. People grow.
5. I will not fill in the blanks about your life with worst-case scenarios or experiences I've had with others.
6. I won't let your flaws define my picture of you.
7. I won't look down on you, condescend to you, or scorn you - that would show I think too much of myself.
8. I won't ask you to live by my standards, only to live up to your own.
9. I won't stereotype, pigeonhole, or dismiss you based on the labels that are applied to you.
10. I will not allow differences in our values to devalue you as a person in my eyes.

And the things I will do:
1. I will try to understand your frame of reference, your standards, your priorities.
2. Whether I like you or dislike you, I will treat you with courtesy and kindness.
3. I will make allowances for your flaws, and praise your good qualities.
4. I will speak to you and of you with patience.
5. I will tactfully discuss my concerns with you, confronting things like an adult.
6. I will be open-minded and listen.
7. I will take you at your word, unless I have powerful reasons not to do so.
8. I will be honest with you about my feelings, but accept your right to make your own decisions, and either support you or step quietly aside.
9. I will accept that every person in a group will have a different view of a situation, and strive to make the complete picture out of the varying points of view, rather than accepting one as false and one as true.
10. I will apply these same principles in dealing with the people you love.

I've posted these rules in every blog I've had over the years, and shared them with many people individually. They define my approach to open-mindedness, tolerance, fairness, and compassion. I do my best to apply them in every circumstance, every personal interaction. I will apply them to you, any time you choose to interact with me - through comments, tweets, email, etc. I'd appreciate if you would try to reciprocate. Only with open-mindedness can we hope to achieve accord.