AvatarWhile 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

About jonnietootling

It seems forever that I have seen myself as a writer, enamored of life and great literature. I have been a journalist, a blogger, a published novelist; hold both a Bachelor's and Master's in literature and creative writing. Now in my 70's I am blogging here about existence, philosophy, art, literature, people of every stripe, finding our way through life, and growing old with panache.
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  1. Betty Sue Morris says:

    Good comments. But as I age my struggle is more with technology than with principles. I find there are things I just don’t want to spend the energy to learn. How about you?


    • Because I teach, I am constantly having to learn new technology. Love the teaching and the students; resist or resent the technology. Then I have to give myself a Stern talking to. What keeps our minds sharp are not doing the things we love or repeating the things we know well, but in doing new, foreign, difficult things. Still pisses me off!!


  2. Joella Ewing says:

    I think I was a rebel from the beginning – wanting at age seven to sit at the back of the bus with the black people because I didn’t think it fair that they had to smell the gas. (My mother wouldn’t let me.) But I remember feeling visceral terror, while on vacation in Texas, sitting in my car along a parkway in Ft. Worth, when a large group of black young men ran toward my car. I immediately locked the doors and rolled up the windows. I felt stupid and saw my bias for what it was after they had run right past me as if I wasn’t even there. I would not have reacted at all if it had been a pack of white boys.


  3. I think early in life I was oblivious. You know what they say — fish do not know they are in water. I had no real bias against anyone — my paternal Granddad had some bias (did not want me to take a Mexican boy that I adored); my Dad had some biased notions but I never saw him treat anyone of any color with anything but respect. It was Mom, however, who was liberal and outspoken in her beliefs and she taught all of us kids that people were equal. Somehow I didn’t make the connection that people weren’t being treated equal, even though I could clearly see the separate water fountains and the other forbidding signs. I was a sophomore in high school before I really understood the nature of inborn prejudice and began to take a stand against it.


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