Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Opening Up


written by our Project Consultant, Philip Lomneth


Openness.  People talk about its importance often, about keeping an open mind when trying to learn something new or entering into a controversial conversation, but do we really know what being open means?  Do we grasp all that it entails?  For if we are open, are we like a door swung wide, letting in all sorts of insects and critters as well as the summer breeze?  Or can we still be open even while screening out the things we want not?  Moreover, if we are open to new ideas and experiences, what must we let go of, what must we empty out, in order to have the room for the new?

I ask these questions because I seek a deeper understanding of what it means to be open.  In interfaith work in particular, having a rich understanding of openness helps one intentionally enter conversations recognizing one's own assumptions and limits
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So, what deeper meaning do I seek?  I seek an understanding of openness affirming the need for vulnerability.  Openness means letting go of one's desire to be right, to listen especially when you believe the person talking is wrong.  It is expecting surprises rather than anticipating people's motions or preparing for one's own next move.  To be open is to let your guard down and feel an attack.  We should absolutely reject disrespect, yet if one is open, one does not expect an insult.  Being open means sharing yourself beyond what is comfortable or normal.

I seek an understanding of openness affirming our status as partially filled creatures.  Though we may be ever changing, we have ideas, beliefs, convictions, experiences, and more that have formed us, that have somehow filled us.  They are not burdens to cast off, rather they make up that which we share with the people around us.  What's more, because we are at least partially full, openness encourages us to challenge or question what we find confusing, misguided, or simply wrong.  If being open means to share what is within us, then we ought to also share what we disagree with.  Furthermore, because we can be hurt, openness carries with it the responsibility to care for each other and reject what is harmful.  Understanding is critical, but I do not believe we are simply bodies and minds to be roughly rocked about in order to gain some modicum of deeper understanding.

If we live out some deeper meaning of openness beyond the clich√©, I believe our interactions with others will be more authentic as we understand the risks and limits of our own openness.  We will learn to be comfortable setting boundaries in what to share and where we can to divulge more.  Disagreements will not simply appear as attacks or denials of one's perspective but genuine ways of sharing one's perspective and showing deep listening.  If we understand that openness abolishes neither our right to be treated with dignity nor our responsibility to treat others the same, we can enter dialogue knowing that we will hold each other accountable if anyone transgresses those rights.  If we seek richer interactions with the people around us, a fuller understanding of openness is one way to start.

These are just a few of my still forming ideas on what it means to be open, but what do you think?  Why does being open matter?  What does it even mean?  How is being open important in your encounters with people of different faiths, beliefs, or cultures from your own?
Philip Lomneth is a Project Consultant with Project Interfaith.  He graduated from St. Olaf College with a Bachelor's degree in Religion and Ethnic Studies.  Philip's fascination with the many ways identity and belief influences people's lives led him to start volunteering with Project Interfaith in 2008.  He kept returning throughout the years, and is currently developing curricula and other resources at Project Interfaith.  In the fall, he plans to head back to school, pursuing a Master of Divinity. 

4 comments:

Liam chleborad said...

Hey, Phil. I like your post. I think you're on the right track. I don't agree with "partially full", though. I think we have previous experiences, but I don't think we can ever be full. I know - English teachers pick at words. It is inherent to my nature. I also think that the number one "thing" that we must cast off in order to be open is our pride in the sense of superiority or arrogance. I am open because I do not think I am better. I am different. Now, do I sometimes think my actions/beliefs are more right? Yes, but that "rightness" is just that I am conforming to my value that we should treat others with dignity and respect, which I prioritize.
I am so pleased to know you're working at Project Interfaith.

Jenstastny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenstastny said...

Hey, Phil. I like your post. I think you're on the right track. I don't agree with "partially full", though. I think we have previous experiences, but I don't think we can ever be full. I know - English teachers pick at words. It is inherent to my nature. I also think that the number one "thing" that we must cast off in order to be open is our pride in the sense of superiority or arrogance. I am open because I do not think I am better. I am different. Now, do I sometimes think my actions/beliefs are more right? Yes, but that "rightness" is just that I am conforming to my value that we should treat others with dignity and respect, which I prioritize.
I am so pleased to know you're working at Project Interfaith.

Jen Stastny said...

I'm sorry - I accidentally posted the comment first as my husband. Now it won't let me delete it. I am the stereotype of an English teacher when it comes to technology. Mea culpa.