Miscomprehension Prevents Open-mindedness

Every year, new campaigns aimed at gaining rights for a particular group of people arouse conflict. Such campaigns inspire the awareness of cultural tension and racial prejudice, and the rest of society joins in by either supporting the campaign or trying to poke holes in it.

But while many of these campaigns aspire for righteous causes, the ideas often go beyond the heads of supporters.

Whether the issue be injustice towards particular sexualities, racial discrimination or religious oppression, everyone wants to believe they understand the matter entirely.

But the truth is, no one does.

It doesn’t matter how educated you are in politics or how perceptive you think you are. It is utterly impossible to fully understand every perspective.

Generally the case is that an individual will fully emerge him or herself into one perspective and never even bother trying to figure out the rest. The other situation, which most people neglect to address, is when an individual takes a step back, observes various perspectives and then concludes that, because he or she decided to do this, they now fully comprehend the issue.

The trouble with this is, even after extensive research, you will only ever know various perspectives in terms of facts and details. The only way to completely comprehend a perspective is by submerging oneself into it to get a feel for the emotional aspect of the belief. But, as mentioned before, this creates other problems– fully immersing yourself into one side of the story means you have chosen your belief and, even if you are respectful of contradictory beliefs, your mind is made up.

This lack of emotional comprehension leads to unrecognized prejudice. I have heard people who are generally considered open-minded make commentary that they intend to be perceptive but is actually subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) offensive.

This misunderstanding I have recently heard applied in two situations.

The first or these situations came from an anecdote. A teacher was telling me about how his grandparents had said they would be okay if “so-and-so decided to be a girl” or if “so-and-so decided to be a boy.” While their intention was good, the teacher was disappointed in the way his grandparents had misunderstood the concept of being transgender, believing it to be some sort of instantaneous decision.

The second of these situations was during a conversation with a group of friends. We were talking about the Tower of Babylon, a religious belief describing the separation of languages. But rather than trying to understand it, those in the group were commenting about how ridiculous they thought it was.

Growing up, I was raised in a family that believed and aspired to carry out Christian teachings, one of which includes the Tower of Babylon. While my beliefs have since evolved, I am grateful to have experienced a Christian mindset because now I am able to not only know the beliefs but to understand the reasoning and morality behind them and thus have a broad respect for the religion.

That being said, while the comments about the Tower of Babylon were not a direct attack on me or my beliefs, it saddened me to hear how even people who are often insightful can unintentionally mock something they don’t fully grasp.

Yet despite my experience with Christianity, I know I will never be able to completely fathom other religions such as Hinduism, Islam or Judaism, no matter how much I spend time learning about the practices. All I can do is appreciate them as they are and recognize my own ignorance.

The only way to be truly open-minded is to understand and accept that you will never be able to perfectly comprehend any given issue.

Published on Tuesday,  April 5, 2016

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