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A God-given Right

January 31, 2010

It is hard to be open-minded, not just willing to allow a person to talk uninterrupted, but truly open-minded to listen and try to understand an opposing point of view.  The real test of open-mindedness comes when a particular view directly opposes a deeply held belief.  To be open-minded, one must accept a person has an undeniable right to their belief, even if they have no foundation for it.  In most cases, we find one side is not wholly right and the other is not wholly wrong.

Civility demands politeness during discussions.  However, having good manners is not the same as having an open-mind.  Of course, even civility is lacking today.  Rather than win a debate on point, in the current environment, one simply shouts down any opposing view.  All that we hear is the loudest voice.  Maybe it’s fear that brought this about.  Fear of losing ground or of having an opinion dismissed.  Until we restore civility to the public debate, new and differing ideas fall on deaf ears.

Once civility returns, the hard work of trying to understand opposition begins.  In the United States, the classic battle between conservatives and liberals takes place.  In the days of Sam Rayburn, the debate was healthy and full.  Today, watching Congress on C-SPAN, we see only ideologues screaming at each other and refuse to find common ground.  While Congress is quintessential example of a closed-minded organization, the same behavior permeates our daily lives at all levels.  We never reach a point where we do what’s best for the whole; we only support what’s best for those that agree with us exactly.

Our Founding Fathers understood the need for open-mindedness.  In the days and weeks before the vote on our constitution, much debate took place on matters they intended to include.  In the end, some deeply held personal beliefs of these men were put aside for the good of the whole.  Benjamin Franklin put it best in his speech of September 17, 1787:

“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.  It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.  Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error.  Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong.  But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said “I don’t know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that’s always in the right”

Franklin understood no one of us is as bright as all of us.  He kept his mind open and was willing to change given good reason.  In the end, he knew compromise was required for the best outcome and all opinions hold value, even if that value only reinforces the truth by being wrong.

Within each person lives ideologies and prejudices that color our view.  We can build walls to support our limited understanding or tear walls down and invite varying opinions that challenge us to defend a viewpoint.  Truth can stand up to challenge; it is tempered by it.  When we open our minds and try to understand other points of view, our own becomes refined and stronger.  While it is a God-given right to have an opinion, God did not guarantee the wisdom to make your opinions sound. That is up to us as individuals to accomplish and it is only accomplished with an open-mind.

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