2 tools for keeping an open heart and mind

2 tools for keeping an open heart and mind

room for difference

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the following passage in a book a local businessman had written and asked me to read, “Remove people from your life whose beliefs, ideas, and values aren’t aligned with yours. Make no compromises here.” Holy smokes!  What a shocking point of view. i wasn’t deteching a shred of advocacy for having an open heart or mind.

I told the business man I’d like to talk with him so I could better understand why he felt that way.

He asked me if I agreed with his position. I told him no. “Then we have nothing to discuss now or ever,” he replied. Holy smokes again.

True to his beliefs, he removed me from his life.

These days, circling the wagons to include only those people who agree with us and excluding others using a “you’re either with us or against us” mindset seem to be the new norm.

To me, these practices are scary, limiting, and unnecessarily hurtful.

The human capacity to injure other people is very great precisely because our capacity to imagine other people is very small. ~Elaine Scarry, Teaching for a Tolerant World

Sameness is both good and bad

Granted, uniformity and conformity are comforting. We know what to expect. We know where the boundaries are because we’ve defined them.

But, suppose we don’t know enough about a person or a situation (beyond what we’ve judged to be true based on our perceptions, our definition of reality, and our own way of sense-making) to be able to draw the proper boundaries? Suppose boundaries don’t need to be drawn at all?

The word homophily was created by sociologists in the 1950s to describe the human tendency to “love the same,” that is, our preference to seek out those who share similar characteristics and beliefs. This preference creates the unintended consequence of forming ingroups that have the “right” views and outgroups that have the “wrong” ones. It’s us versus them.

In a highly connected and interdependent world full of difference and diversity, isn’t demanding sameness unfeasible? Fuel for unnecessary discord?

4 ways beliefs can differ

Curious about the ways in which beliefs can vary, I researched how people’s views are different. I discovered four groupings of beliefs that contribute to us seeing the world differently from those around us:

  • Moral beliefs—our code of conduct for welfare and justice in how we treat one another.
  • Conventional beliefs—our expectations for appropriate behavior.
  • Psychological beliefs—our understanding of ourselves and others.
  • Metaphysical beliefs—our faith and spiritual views.

These are vast arenas that promote varying views and approaches.

In our empty nest household, hubby and I bring yin and yang to most everything we do. While there’s the occasional conflict, we’ve come to love the serendipity and growth associated with differing thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and preferences. Our lives have been made richer by the exposure to what’s different.

In a world populated with 7.4 billion people and as many opinions, expecting sameness and alignment seems unrealistic. When faced with the smorgasbord of differences before us, I’d love to see us replace intolerance for differences with respect, acknowledgment, and inclusion.

Making such a shift in thinking requires us to have determination, resilience, and grace because what we believe to be true might not be the only truth. Two tools exist that can help us as we work to keep our minds and hearts open.

2 tools for keeping open hearts and minds

One tool is reflective thinking, a concept that was introduced in 1910 by educator John Dewey. He defined it as the “active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends.”

Reflective thinking is a form of critical thinking in which we think about our thinking. We evaluate our thought processes and assure that we’ve moved the unexamined to the examined. That is, we thoughtfully assess if we’ve let assumptions, pre-conceived beliefs, or stereotypes unconsciously color our decisions. Without reflective thinking, we can fancy ourselves as being tolerant yet still be prejudiced.

The other tool is building tolerance for ambiguity.

To not inadvertently fall victim to confirmation bias, we can nurture our capacity to accept deviation and uncertainty in what we define as being the truth. Building a tolerance for ambiguity means being willing to forfeit a measure of certainty and control and being skilled in both doubting and believing.

Call to action

Sadly I’ll never know what motivated that businessman/author to adopt his position and defend it so fiercely. Was it dogma? Bigotry? Fear? His refusal to engage leaves me guessing.

If it were within my power, I’d create a golden rule about making room for everyone. I’d enable people everywhere to replace their fear of not knowing or being right with unconditional positive regard for themselves and others. Doing so wouldn’t mean having to accept someone’s differing viewpoint, simply acknowledging without judgment that everyone has a right to believe and think differently. No one’s right or wrong, just different.

Image credit before quote: Pixabay



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Dealing with frogs, hot water, and equal opportunity

Dealing with frogs, hot water, and equal opportunity

frogs hot water equal opportunity

We were all enjoying the last remnants of sunlight, watching a mixed sex group of 12-year-olds play soccer.

One fierce and fearless girl was playing for the visiting team. Her ponytail danced in the wind as she did a stop and go, completely fooling her opponent. She’d get tripped, fall to the ground, and immediately jump up and fly after the ball.

Her performance was delighting many on the sidelines, but not all.

“Girls shouldn’t be allowed to play soccer with the boys,” solemnly proclaimed one dad. “They could get hurt.”

Yes, they could. But so could the boys.

Several of the women on the sidelines tried to engage him—in a very friendly and non-threatening way—in a conversation about letting girls have the opportunity to play with the boys.

He wasn’t buying any of it.

A teachable moment about benevolent sexism (a chivalrous attitude toward women that feels favorable but is actually sexist because it casts women as weak creatures in need of protection) didn’t happen.

Everyone sees, thinks, feels, and acts from their own unique perspective. Variety makes life interesting. However, sometimes we get stuck in the rightness of our opinions and beliefs and fail to notice how the world around us is changing.

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death. ~Daniel Quinn, The Story of B

This dad had once seen a girl injured during a co-ed soccer game. Now he believed girls’ participation should be limited because they, in his opinion, aren’t up to the physical challenge.

Peter Elbow, a professor who writes extensively about doubt and belief, observes how our beliefs can blind us. “The flaws in our own thinking usually come from our assumptions—our ways of thinking that we accept without noticing. But it’s hard to doubt what we can’t see because we unconsciously take it for granted.”

Out of concern, this dad had created a boundary that limited opportunity.

That evening, he wasn’t ready to be curious and explore his assumptions. Dr. Elbow suggests that “our best hope for finding invisible flaws in what we can’t see in our own thinking is to enter into different ideas or points of view—ideas that carry different assumptions. Only after we’ve managed to inhabit a different way of thinking will our currently invisible assumptions become visible to us.”

Here’s hoping that someday this dad will be open “to inhabit a different way of thinking” so he can gain a better understanding of how certain notions unfairly hold women back.

Image credit: Pixabay



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Ready to start changing stereotypes?

Ready to start changing stereotypes?

changing stereotypesIn spring 2014, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy took three days of paternity leave when his first child was born.

Sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing for a new dad to do, yet many sports announcers and fans soundly criticized his decision. Why? Because it resulted in him not playing in two baseball games. 

Why would such a simple decision create such an uproar? (more…)

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Get your brave on

Get your brave on

women supporting women

Mary Schaefer, today’s guest author, is a coach, trainer and consultant who works with leaders, managers and business owners—particularly those who need a manager-employee communication breakthrough or to create a positive, functional work environment. Mary’s mission is to create work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. Mary holds a Master’s degree in HR and is one the the co-authors of The Character-Based Leader. You can connect with Mary on Twitter (@MarySchaefer) or through her website. #7 in an 8-part series.


“What’s it going to take?”  This is the question posed to me and other compatriots by my colleague, Jane Perdue.  What is it going to take to remedy the situations related to these questions?

 “Do you ever wonder what women, men and society need to do so that…

  • The contributions of all genders and races are called out regularly without the need for a calendar event?
  • Women and persons of color are designated as a doctor, not “a woman doctor;” as a scientist, not “a Latino scientist,” etc.?
  • Special designations aren’t needed in announcements, e.g.:  the first woman to lead the federal reserve, the first female best director Academy Award winner, the first African American female flight crew, etc.


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How bias helps us jump to the wrong conclusion

How bias helps us jump to the wrong conclusion

don't jump to the wrong conclusion“I’m hoping we don’t start this meeting off with a prayer,” my colleague whispered to me as the staff meeting began.

In response to my quizzical expression, he whispered, “I’ll fill you in after the meeting.”

Outside the conference room, my colleague stated our new boss had a theology certificate. “I saw it on a copy of his resume that was floating around in the office.”

“OK, but why would you expect him to start a meeting with a prayer?”

“Isn’t that what religious people from the south do?” (more…)

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Kind leader doesn’t equal stupid leader

Kind leader doesn’t equal stupid leader

brave leaders

“You seemed so nice when we talked, I just figured you wouldn’t mind,” said Allan with more than a hint of exasperation in his voice.

“Really!? You really figured I wouldn’t care you presented my idea to the boss as your own just because I was nice when we spoke?” exclaimed Bea. “What were you thinking?”

I’ve heard similar stories from many a client or colleague, especially those striving to be character-based leaders, who were shocked that someone assumed they were weak because they were kind.

Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact that too many people make the same incorrect assumption. Kindness is not weakness.

Research conducted by Batia M. Wiesenfeld, Naomi B. Rothman, Sara L. Wheeler-Smith, and Adam D. Galinsky found that bosses who treat people with respect and dignity are “seen as less powerful than other managers—less in control of resources, less able to reward and punish—and that may hurt their odds of attaining certain key, contentious leadership roles.”

Individuals wanting to be known as effective leaders are self-aware. They don’t take the same shortcut in stereotypical thinking that Allan did.  They understand that a leader/individual who treats them with kindness is not:

  • a doormat or stupid
  • or a perpetual follower without an opinion
  • a fountain of ideas from which others can freely drink without attribution
  • powerless.

Steve Livingston, a social psychologist, offers this advice. 

“Be careful about the assumptions you make about others, even the positive ones. When we fail to do so, at the very least we are losing the opportunity to get to know someone on a more personal—more human—basis. At the very worst, we can inadvertently set up a chain of expectations and misunderstandings that will undermine the relationship itself.”

It’s a paradox of life that we want to be treated with kindness yet treat those who are kind to us without respect.

The next time someone treats you with respect, acts as if you matter, cares what you think or deals with you fairly—in short, treats you with kindness—don’t sell them, or yourself, short by assuming they’re without power or smarts or influence.

Have you experienced this paradox in action? If so, what did you do?

Image source:  morgueFile




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