Cultivate An Actively Open Mind. (16.1.5)

This piece was originally published in Voices of Youth Advocates, in their “Notes of the Teen Underground” Series in August 2016. I was 19 at the time of its publication. I still stand by the intentions and main kernals in these early essays. However, I was new in my development of my opinions and the language needed to properly express them. These pieces can be clumsy, and contain missteps.

My language, eloquence, and beliefs are continually refined, and hopefully my writing mirrors that improvement now.

For this piece in particular, it doesn’t really matter what the book was or what the complaints were, My points are still applicable in some cases. Of course there are many circumstances where there points are void, and as always exceptions to this rule. A large exception to point out here is Nazis. Nazis and their opinions can fuck off into the sun unequivocally. As can anything Nazi adjacent.

Something to keep in mine about me and the writing of this piece. It was originally a very curse filled rant, which I amazingly had the self confidence to work on, edit, and submit without melting. A bit of that confidence now would be lovely.

This iteration is lightly edited for typos and clarity only. Enjoy.

Student To Student: Cultivate and Actively Open Mind,

I wrote this open letter – perhaps a bit of rant – to students and educators in response to the overly negative response to the only book all incoming students were required to read at my college.

I went to college a week early, to participate in a program where we learned about civic engagement, civil disagreement, and discourse. The week focused on listening to others, on finding similarities on both sides of arguments, on analysis, on constructive critique, productive disagreements, and discussion. The activities we did and the ideas and discussions we had because of those activities were so much more enriching then what I saw in the general population of the campus, especially on social media, during the rest of the quarter.

Because we were encouraged to speak with an open mind, to listen instead of formulating our next sentence, because we were not simply liking or disliking something, we were discussing it; we were actively trying to get information about the topics and learn about them. Because we have a space where it was safe to be open to someone changing your mind with something new, that week was an incredibly expanding and educating experience.

After that first week I was really disappointed in the type of conversations that were happening during orientation week on our introductory reading assignment. A few students complained about the book, then a few more, then everyone was, and soon the book and the author were unanimously condemned with no further discussion.

It doesn’t matter what the book was, this practice of complaining without substance only closes you off to the material and to any kind of discussion. It creates a habit of not listening, and not actively trying to learn. Especially if these empty complaints come from a place of difficulty in understanding, that kind of habit does a great disservice to you and everyone around you, because it creates an atmosphere where students are expected to be or even praised for struggling. It encourages the students who are understanding or enjoying learning to not do as well, to act like they don’t understand, or to hide their success.

Instead of encouraging all students to strive for understanding and for growth, this atmosphere creates a cycle that produces continually less learning, less understanding, and less discussion. Students aren’t encouraged to get help when they want or need it, or to discuss difficulties in a productive way.

There are far more effective ways of expressing and dealing with difficulty in understanding the subject matter, struggles of dealing with the way it’s written, or mistrust of the information presented than complaints. When you chose to leave yourself open and actively try to learn from anything and everything it ultimately gives you an impressive opportunity for growth.

We as a culture, especially on college campuses, should be aspiring to improved educations and praising active learning of all kinds.

By complaining about our text, its author, the writing style, its presentation, and the typo in the first chapter, you’re not only setting yourself up for failure later in the quarter, in this case (and many others) you’ve also completely missed the point of the book. The point being that we need to be more aware of what’s happening in our country and our world. It’s simply calling for people in this country to be more actively engaged in our community. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the author’s points, or how they demonstrate this point. That’s not important in this moment. The point is simply that there is a lot going on under the surface all aspects of our world people should try to be more aware of.

That should be a point that everyone in college agrees with.

And in regards to you who complain about the presentation, the research, the length, the style, etc, why just whine about it? Create something out of those weaknesses you so readily point out. If you think it should be better, make it better. Don’t think the examples relate to the idea? What do they relate to? And how would you have supported the original idea? What evidence would you use? It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with the idea. It’s harder to support an idea that you disagree with, and you’ll learn more from the exercise of switching sides for a moment. Think the book should have been three pages? Write those three pages. Read them. Then learn from those pages what you missed while complaining about the length of the book.

Don’t succumb to thinking only what those around you think. Even if you agree, challenge. Converse. Discuss. It will, at the very least, enrich your understanding of why you don’t like something, – or why you do like it. And it just might give you a much deeper understanding.

Of course you will run across assignments that really are quite dumb and don’t really have a useful point, but if you go into every single assignment in the mindset that it will be stupid and will automatically warrant being complained about, you’re not going to get nearly as much out of your education – whatever form it takes – as you would if you went into each assignment or topic or conversation with an actively open mind and some level of self awareness.