“Minds are like parachutes. They only function when open.”
My dad loved to use this quote from Scottish businessman Thomas Dewar back when I was in high school.
I thought of Dad’s favorite quote the other day, listening to a small group of people discussing the recent impeachment hearings in Washington, DC.
The group seemed unwilling or unable to accept the fact that there is more than one point of view on most any subject. In this case it was, of course, a political issue.
The discussion quickly divided the group into two points of view, with no one willing to give ground to those with whom they disagreed.
How does one learn either narrow-mindedness or openness? It often begins with where you grew up.
As a child, I lived in Missouri, largely a Democratic state (at the time) and then in Kansas, largely a Republican state. So I was introduced to two points of view at an early age. I consider myself lucky to have been taught to be open to other’s views.
I never really knew, or for that matter cared, how my parents leaned politically. The night before an election I recall their discussing how they were going to vote. I was the beneficiary of learning that it’s acceptable for two people to have different perspectives, which they often did.
I majored in political science and journalism at Kansas State University. While pursuing my degree, I was asked by Jack Backer, head of the journalism school, if I’d like to be the political editor of the K-State Collegian, the student newspaper and sixth largest newspaper in the state at the time. I was flattered, but I quickly told him I didn’t have any real experience with politics.
“That’s why we recommended you,” Professor Backer said. We don’t want someone who comes to the role with a lot of preconceived notions.”
But it wasn’t until I was graduated and joined Kansas Governor Robert Docking as his press secretary that I really appreciated the value of different views. Governor Docking represented a multitude of perspectives.
The governor was a successful banker, a fiscal conservative, and a Democrat who, before retiring, became the first in the state’s history to win third and fourth-terms as governor. As his press secretary, I participated in all that went on.
Eventually, I joined one of the world’s largest consulting firms and learned to appreciate different perspectives in business.
The corporate CEO may have one point of view while the employees on the front line of a manufacturing plant may have a different point of view–one that’s closer to reality because they touch it every day. Adapting different points of view from different people not only makes decision-making wiser but it also builds ownership in the people who have to apply that wisdom.
My consulting now enables me to draw on what I’ve learned about different perspectives in politics and business. I try to learn from both and apply what works best to help people and organizations succeed.
What doesn’t work is attacking people and their ideas.
I have absolutely no tolerance for people who want to destroy others, especially those who truly believe they are making, or can make the world better in some way. Those types of people are bullies and more often than not, just plain mean.
Key Takeaway: We all need to keep an open mind, learn from those with different perspectives and build up rather than tear down. When we can listen with respect and civility to someone’s opinion that differs from our own, we will have taken a great leap toward regaining honest, thoughtful dialogue with one another.
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Well said, Jim, and great counsel in the current political environment where everyone has dug a trench and is arming for battle. I believe that standing by your principles and acting with integrity is non-negotiable, but it doesn’t mean you can’t move off the spot where you’re standing and extend a hand or an ear to better understand someone else’s views. Agree to disagree, but at least give it a fair hearing. Too often I observe those on the extremes of issues shooting at the other side and demonizing them without any desire to listen, while those of us in the middle are caught in the crossfire.