I have all sorts of weird and kooky friends, of all walks of life, doing all sorts of things with their lives, who believe all sorts of things and disbelieve all sorts of things. I have friends that know I’m an activist but don’t believe in the things I fight for, and devout Christian friends who know I’m an atheist, and we’re still tight like A$AP Rocky’s plaits.
A perfect example is a friend of mine named Jabari. I met him pretty weirdly enough when I had repeated Form 5 at a different school, and we kinda hit it off as friends. By the time I had gotten to that school, though, I was pretty much a full-fledged card-carrying atheist. He knew. In fact, the entire student body knew. It wasn’t a secret. Jabari, however, was the village preacher-man. As in, he literally had a Bible in his bag every day of school just in case he needed to rain down the Holy Spirit. And it was never a problem that I had with the man. The problem I did have was that my responses to him preaching the good news to me were usually responded to with the words ‘check what I’m saying and you’ll see where I’m right’.
For those who don’t know, this isn’t quite closed-minded…
I say that because, on more than one instance, I’ve had to deal with the idea that people think I’m narrow-minded. And, on more than one instance, I have not cared. People are welcome to think of me and my beliefs however they want, right? But then I started asking myself what closed-mindedness really is and how people use it.
For the most part, people use it as a weapon against the people who believe something different. They wound them with guilt that they would ignore the ideas and beliefs of others, and doubt in their own beliefs and the revelations that brought them to that point. They start thinking that they were so wrong to believe in clearly an idea that is so progressive and open that they might as well believe it themselves. In my eyes, that essentially comes down to bullying…someone’s gonna have to correct me if I’m wrong.
My grandfather is closed-minded. He still thinks that Indian people break their plates and bury them in the back yard when black people eat off of them. That’s clearly a deluded idea now. Jabari, however, was not closed-minded. It took me an incredibly long time to see that. He’s not completely open-mined, though…he was incredibly arrogant, and sometimes confrontational about how my ideas opposed his. But sometimes we’re like that with what we truly believe. We guard it, and build it up, and defend against attack. But, in that, we legitimize the attack. That means the other folks have a point, and we need to respond to it. He was engaging with what I believed, and saying that he trusted that we could reason through it, even though he thought that reasoning would bring me to his side. I can’t blame him; I thought the same reasoning would have him understand my disbelief in a god.
In a sense, true open-mindedness would be saying that everyone’s right. Not a lot of people are like that. Hell, I’m not sure anyone’s like that. What we are like is minds slightly ajar, peeking out at what can mingle with what’s inside the room. That’s like Jabari saying that if I looked at where he was coming from, I might see that he was right. And that, if I could get him to see where I was, he might see the same. We get to come to a mutual truth through that discussion. But closed-mindedness is saying to the other person that they have no idea what they’re talking about. And I’ve never said that to anyone.
In my years of dealing with my friend Jabari, I’ve never once told him “Nigga, you’ve got no clue whatsoever. God doesn’t exist man, so just shut the f**k up.” Instead, I’ve always told him, “Alright, you know where I am about these things eh, but I’m listening to you. I wanna hear what you’ve got to say.” And I’ve been that way about everything else that I don’t understand or agree with. I might say that I’m far away from your beliefs, but if you’re cool enough to talk about it, I’m cool enough to listen. And you can’t blame me for saying I’m still in disagreement, because I can’t get angry at you for stating that you still agree with yourself. It’s…kinda silly, you see. Open-mindedness is not defined by agreement. It’s defined by the ability to have a discussion around two completely different sets of beliefs and still shake on it and agree to disagree. It’s about at least having an idea of why people believe something completely counter to your beliefs, and learning to wrap your head around that.
I’m not asking for people to agree with me…okay, I kinda am. But I’m definitely not begging. And I’m not going to hate a man that doesn’t agree with me. I might make a decision about how close I’ll sit next to someone who’s facing in a different direction in life to me, but at least I’ll come closer to understanding that person and making a decision about his beliefs. And instead of people calling me closed-minded for it, they need to accept that I’m allowed a point of view as well. In other words…