The lost art of acceptance

UB student examines what it really means to be ‘open-minded’


Lately I have noticed and been troubled by the migration of the term “open-minded,” from being the description of someone who tries to understand a situation from all sides to a sort of synonym for someone on the left of the political spectrum.

Someone who supports gay rights is open-minded; someone who does not is closed-minded. If you are not pro-abortion rights, you need to open your mind.

Until recently, I would be just as likely as anyone to be saying these things. But the problem is that it’s too easy.

It is blatantly obvious to me a person’s sexual orientation should have no effect on his or her rights as a human being. I could easily go on about why I am pro-abortion rights, however, coming to these conclusions did not challenge my mind. It didn’t stretch and it didn’t open.

Calling myself open-minded just for believing these things is severely limiting. If I am confident in my beliefs, I should be willing to challenge them by really trying to see the other side.

The value of taking a concept that is completely alien to you and attempting to understand it is unmatched and necessary for change. In a world as diverse in beliefs and lifestyles as ours, being open-minded should be a universal goal.

Along with that yogurt Jell-O mold at the end of the dessert table, religion and politics is something my family tries to avoid when we gather together. We learned this is the right choice the hard way.

I remember engaging the anti-abortion vs. pro-abortion rights debate many times before my family’s epiphany. My grandma is anti-abortion and I am pro-abortion rights.

“Abortion is murder, it is wrong,” she would say.

I would respond with my belief that women are sometimes given no choice, and they should have complete control over their bodies.

If I had tried opening my mind, then I would have realized my grandma is the mother of four children, the grandmother of 11 and the great-grandmother of two. When she looks around the room we all fill, she sees lives happening that would not have been possible without her.

Abortion to her means preventing these lives from existing. If I had understood that, then maybe I could have explained to her that being pro-abortion rights meant respecting the lives that were already created. To prevent women from getting botched surgeries out of fear, or having a baby she cannot support.

We maybe could have realized we were, in reality, both in support of human lives. Instead we would argue, wasting our breath and our time.

Without learning someone else’s language you can’t possibly attempt to teach them yours. Arguing about social issues without attempting to understand the opposite view is like finding a spider in your room, yelling at it to get out and then being outraged if it doesn’t end up cracking open your window and crawling back to where you think it belongs.

Even though getting on the level of someone whose beliefs oppose yours sometimes feels even more difficult than successfully communicating with a spider, I know from experience it is not. Spiders are never going to understand, but sometimes people will.

Trying to understand foreign concepts in the beginning feels like walking into a giant block of ice or trying to get onto platform nine-and-three-quarters as a Muggle in the land of Harry Potter. In time, however, spring will come and the block of ice will melt. In the world of your head, Muggles can learn how to be wizards and disappear into what before was a brick wall.

With work, you can open your mind.

Sophia McKeone is a features staff writer and can be reached at