While I am no psychologist, speaking from personal experience I think that as we mature we all need to find ways to open our mind to the world; we need a “can opener” for a brain that is programmed to bias and naturally begins to close and petrify with age.
Even if we think ourselves enlightened, society has implanted biases via experience, media, and our most trusted sources (parents, school, church). Over time, our youthful tolerance gives way to the pressures of work and responsibilities. At some point in our maturation, it is up to us to purposefully choose reasoned thought and good will; to choose right over habit.
In my own case, I clearly recall my “opening” experience in regard to gays (and all the iterations that followed). Born in Texas in 1939, I grew up in a heterosexual Christian world; families were made up of one man, one woman – and any other combination was, well, weird. Not that I meant that as a condemnation, but for my first few decades, I had no reason to challenge the status quo.
Then in 1988 I saw the movie “Torch Song Trilogy,” based on Harvey Fierstein’s famous trio of plays about gay America. Two young men fall in love, apply to adopt a child, move into a new apartment together – and then one is brutally killed in a homophobic attack nearby. Time has erased the details – perhaps the man had taken the child on an afternoon outing. I faintly remember a baby carriage.
No matter – the horror was there, regardless. I remember my anger and despair; my sense of outrage. This man was a human; these men were parents; they were no different than me, my family. We all come from the same place; we share the same dreams. In an instant, this movie had ratcheted open my mind to a new belief and a more militant tolerance for those who seem different at first glance.
While many of my changes came in a more peaceful way, I certainly have found the “can opener” approach has worked for me more than once. I remember when an adored high school teacher in the mid-1950s challenged the “separate but equal” racial policy, declaring that he would indeed marry a black woman if he loved her – regardless of biased norms. There were other such instances.
Unfortunately as we age, we tend to lock in old, staid (usually wrong-headed) biases rather than aspiring to a new wisdom. It helps us remain more open if we stay in a constant motion, always looking, thinking, challenging; meeting new people, reading books, researching beyond the popular press.
There certainly is an endless list of bigotries to challenge . . . flags and kneeling . . . white dominance and entitlement . . . the recent ugly turn against immigrants. So that we do not get caught in that awful, downward spiral, we need to develop a bent for reasonableness and fair play and humanness, and be constantly looking for effective brain-opening levers.
— Jonnie Martin