We each have our own beliefs, and that belief system has been shaped (and will continue to evolve) over time by our experiences and by other people, whether they are close friends or just acquaintances. I believe it is important to stand up for your beliefs, as here in the United States and in many other parts of the world everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But trying to impose those opinions upon others is just plain wrong.
One person’s belief is no more true than the next. Now I won’t go all philosophical on you, but basically everything you believe is based upon something, whether it be your parents, your friends, where you grew up, etc. However, if someone else has a different belief than yours, that does not make them wrong. Or right for that matter. They simply just disagree.
Having an open mind does not mean throwing out everything you stand for and “searching” for new beliefs. It is about listening and trying your best to understand, without judgment. It can be hard to listen to someone with a strongly opposing viewpoint to your own without automatically making assumptions about them. But guess what? These reactions are completely natural. They are a normal part of human nature that are necessary for survival. By making assumptions we can make inferences about situations that guide us to take appropriate actions. For instance, we know that it is not safe to walk down a dark alley alone at night. So we would infer that it is dangerous to take the short cut home through the alley. This action is based on an assumption that could be life saving.
But consider this example. A doctor in the emergency room receives a patient that is the victim of a car accident. The doctor sees the patient and says, “He needs surgery, but I can’t operate on him. He’s my son!” The doctor is telling the truth but is not the boy’s father, as most people would initially assume. The doctor is the boy’s mother. It is common for people to assume that doctors are male, and most people will not even realize they are making this assumption.
Our inferences are based on the assumption actually being true, and this is where the faults in human nature kick in. In contrast to what some people might believe, we are not always right! Our assumptions may be completely off, leading to judgments of others. Each person has a unique set of experiences shaping their values and beliefs that will impact how they perceive different situations, which is evident especially when traveling. Assumptions can vary significantly between cultures, and these assumptions account for some of the major differences you will begin to notice after spending time in another country. This is why it is so important to consider the perspectives of others when differences are present, as I talked about in my last blog post.
It will take regular practice, but the more we can distinguish between what is fact and what is inference based on our own viewpoint, the more we can expand our outlook and be more open minded. And we all know, sometimes it is just best to simply agree to disagree.