Once you feel passionately about a topic or start down a particular academic or social path, it can be hard to see the issue from any viewpoint or see any other option but the one you’ve chosen. I’ve caught myself doing just that countless times. You engage a person in an argument or a discussion, but you spend the duration of your opponent’s talking time just trying to formulate a rebuttal and reinforce your point. Often, I have walked away from a serious conversation realizing that I honestly did not consider the other person’s argument at all. In an academic setting, this can be one of the most detrimental behaviors. Keeping an open mind is key when trying to take advantage of a learning opportunity, in college or otherwise.
The best way to tackle a problem is to consider many different approaches. The same goes for forming your own opinion on any topic. Here at Wesleyan, there is a clear popular opinion when it comes to political and social issues. In 2012, Newsweek ranked Wesleyan University 15th in its list of “Most Liberal Schools,” and I’m sure this doesn’t come as a shock to any student here. We are definitely politically liberal as a whole, and to many this sort of politically active atmosphere is one of the most attractive attributes of our school. However, it’s important to acknowledge that there are conservatives on campus, albeit a small number of them, and then there are some who don’t fall into those two categories. Whatever your political orientation may be, it’s extremely important to pay attention to each individual issue. Listen to a few different opinions, research all of the facts, and then construct your own thoughts rather than mindlessly latching on to any viewpoint that falls under a blanket term of Democrat or Republican.
I know it can be easy to brush off a person with views that strongly oppose yours. Growing up in a fairly right-leaning household, I’ve had this experience a several times. Every time a family member tried to engage me in a discussion about politics, I immediately entered defense mode. I felt the need to back up my own views and make a mental list of all of the reasons my opponent was wrong. Many times I realized that I didn’t give my family members the respect they deserved simply because their opinions differed from mine.
Here at Wesleyan, the same sort of offense-defense process occurs. In 2011, only six Wesleyan students registered as Republican. Our conservative population is small, but I’m sure that a few more students would have identified with the Republican Party if there weren’t such an intense social pressure to lean the other way. Whether you agree with a person or not, ze has the right to express an opinion without being deemed ignorant or otherwise. It is important to remember that every person feels as attached to hir views as you do to your own, and ze must have a reason for feeling this way. As long as someone poses his or her thoughts in a respectful manner, try to listen. Even if you walk away with your opinion completely unchanged, you’ll still learn something.
Of course, the importance of keeping an open mind doesn’t apply solely to politics. Maintaining a broad outlook is the best way to gain from any situation. This is especially true when traveling. After spending your entire life immersed in one culture, the ways of any other people can seem very strange. As humans, we love familiarity. Other customs can seem bizarre at first, but if you pay attention and try to understand why people do what they do and how their customs have developed, you can learn a great deal about human nature and the manner in which you want to conduct your life.
This open-mindedness can also serve you well as you carve your academic path. Going to a liberal arts school, we are presented with a unique opportunity to take classes not just to fulfill major requirements or to secure a job later in life, but also to bolster and broaden our general outlook. As corny as it sounds, college really is about finding who you are. I urge every freshman to take a few classes in subjects they would have never considered before, whether it is dance, religion, or biology. Every experience is an opportunity to develop into a more well-rounded individual.
In college, you will be exposed to new and foreign ideas. You might realize that you love theater. You might find yourself siding with a conservative. You might recognize for the first time in your life that your parents were wrong, or that they were right. Whatever the scenario, the best way to benefit is to keep an open mind.