The Mind Is Like A Parachute - It Doesn't Work Unless It's Open
|"Here at I-House, the friendships and the discovery of our common humanity are what transform fear and prejudice into comfort and a respect for difference."|
A few years ago, I noticed a bumper sticker whose parachute reference made me think about what often happens at I-House. And that sentiment was later echoed in these excerpts from an article written by Beth Murphy, producer of the documentary about I-House, which has been showing on public television stations across the country:
I've witnessed slavery in Sudan. I've comforted Kosovar refugees who have been stripped of their belongings and their dignity. I've documented human rights abuses against poor minorities in our own Deep South. Sometimes it is hard not to be cynical. What I needed was some hope. And that's exactly what I found while producing a documentary about International House, Berkeley.
During every major world conflict, International House has the potential to become a battleground. Arabs and Israelis worry about how violence at home will affect their families and futures. Chinese and Tibetan students debate the meaning of Communism. Americans defend and decry the role of the U.S. as both a necessary and arrogant superpower.
While there are occasional flare-ups, conflicts become learning experiences. Traditional enemies come face-to-face in the library and laundry room, forcing prejudices into the open.
It is impossible to have lived through September 11th without remembering the prescient words of former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel: "A shallow understanding of the world will damage the nation's sense of self, its commerce, and its standard of living, and it may blind it to even greater threats." When I think of those words, and I read today's headlines, I can't help thinking of the 60,000 International House alumni living around the world who have been exposed to these multiple realities and therefore have a greater understanding of our world. I can't help wishing that Israeli and Palestinian officials, Pakistanis and Indians, as well as Northern Ireland's Catholic and Protestant leaders, had all folded clothes next to one another in the laundry room or had enjoyed meals together in the dining room. I can't help wondering, "what if?"
Of course, we are not saying that everyone's parachute is opened by International House, but it is one of the few places on the planet where a common, extended living experience enables the natural formation of friendships across racial and cultural lines. Those friendships and the discovery of our common humanity are what transform fear and prejudice into comfort and a respect for difference.
And when the parachute does open in this lovely way, it often leads to profound changes. I think now of an Iranian woman at I-House who became a victim of racial profiling after September 11th and how the pain of that experience made her hate all Americans-that is, until she later moved into I-House and became close friends with her American roommate. "Now," she says, "I know that the appropriate response is not hating back, but being aware that I am dealing with an individual's ignorance, not the ignorance of an entire nationality."
I recently learned of a different, but no less profound impact when and American woman and a German man told me of their meeting at I-House, and like so many before them, fell in love and are on their way to marriage. Now they live in Munich, and recall, "the way cultures not only came together in an accepting way at I-House, but that something unique fell out of it." In Munich they see a city of culture and diversity, but with still so many people closed to it, they have applied and just received a fellowship to start putting together an I-House in Munich, fashioned after ours in Berkeley. A current resident, Irene Fernandez, also sees the need for an International House in her country and has worked for more than a year to lay the groundwork for an International House in Mexico City.
Certainly, thousands of parachutes have opened here; and the many stories of safe, mind-expanding landings that followed are a testament to our past and an inspiration for the many opening parachutes to come.
With sincere thanks to all of you who have nourished our House with your presence and affection over the years.
The complete Thomas Dewar quote is:
“People’s minds are like parachutes – they only function when they are open.”
If I asked you to rate your open mindedness on a 1 to 10 scale, what number would you give yourself?
Do I Lose My Dignity or My Sanity?
Before you answer, let’s look at the other side of the open minded coin. Who among us wants to be considered closed minded? There’s an indignity connected to being perceived as indignant. You don’t want to be that person. So if your mind isn’t closed, it must be really open to any and all possibilities. Right? But how realistic is that?
We all face the growing challenge of idea and information overload. Blame it on the internet and all the media connected to it. The reality is that we have more information to process from more sources than ever before. Is it any wonder we get overwhelmed? What does all this do for our attitude for openness? It’s enough to make you leap from your airplane without a parachute.
Is is possible to stay open to it all? Won’t we either suffocate or drown? Our solution is to filter what we take in and eventually choose to adopt.
Open Mindedness: Is it an Attitude or a Skill?
The answer to that question is “yes”. To address our information overload challenges, we need to filter or limit our information intake and then work to prioritize the most valuable. Being indignant is an extreme expression of an attitude for closed mindedness. Overcoming an unproductive attitude requires development of new skills driven by an awareness of the attitude’s damaging effects. You also need a renewed focus on the desired results to make more effective filtering decisions.
Packing Your Parachute
So here’s my quick checklist for maintaining an open mindset.
- Stay focused on your goals and your purpose
- Embrace the belief that possibility thinking is the best path for innovation and problem solving
- Develop and maintain a circle of diverse, trusted sources and advisors
- Develop your skills for enhanced filtering and time management
Social Marketing Insight from Kris Kringle
In case you were wondering, Thomas Dewar is more famous for his work as Scottish whiskey distiller.
“Power today comes from sharing information, not withholding it.” –Keith Ferrazzi | Enhance your power by sharing.
Posted incommunication skills, listening skill, Self AwarenessTaggedinformation overload, linkedin, open mindpermalink
About Tom Lemanski
Tom Lemanski serves as an executive coach and trusted advisor to successful Chicago area leaders want to be more successful. He guides his coaching clients to discover and overcome what's really getting in the way.
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