This weekend I went to a beautiful wedding of two gay friends of mine. The ceremony took place in a swanky Sheraton Hotel on the river Shannon in Ireland and was witnessed by over 200 people, family and friends. I had the honour of being asked to do a reading during the ceremony, and as I stood there, about to read the lyrics of a song by Bob Marley “He is not perfect…” I looked above my friends’ heads and was amazed with the variety of people I saw in the room.
There were some young and middle-aged couples, both hetero- and homosexual, lots of babies and toddlers moving around, cool teenagers, many members of the older generation, aunties, uncles, parents and grandparents. All of them, were there for one reason and one reason only, to celebrate the love of these two men who have been together for over 10 years and wanted to solidify their loving relationship by getting married.
A decade ago such an occasion would not be legal; two decades ago, being gay would have been frowned upon; three decades ago, it would have been ridiculed; four decades ago, it would have been punished with imprisonment; five decades ago, it would also have been the subject of a conversion therapy attempting to cure their homosexuality. We have come a long way from these dark ages and fortunately live in one of the most liberal countries on earth, in relation to LGTB rights.
As I stood there about to read Bob Marley’s lyrics, I could not help but feel proud of each and everyone of us for our open-mindedness about individual differences in people. Open-mindedness is one of the Values In Action (VIA) character strengths, which indicates our willingness to actively seek out the evidence for other than our own beliefs and opinions. It is about having our eyes open to the world around us, rather than, just like horses, narrowing down our views to what the blinkers allow us to see. Open-mindedness is about making truly informed decisions, not sticking with the old wives’ tales just because it is comfortable to us.
There are several benefits of open-mindedness. Firstly, people with this wonderful strength are less likely to be manipulated by others. Many years ago Dr Cialdini, a social psychologists, wrote a book about how easy it is to manipulate people. He presented some simple ways, in which humans can be swayed and claimed that knowledge of such techniques will make us less prone to manipulation of others. However, research is showing us that another way to protect ourselves from manipulation is by developing our strength of open-mindedness.
Furthermore, open minded people score higher at competency and IQ tests, partially, because they are more open to the information around them, regardless how different it is from their own views. They are also more accurate at predicting other people’s behaviour, which makes them more comfortable and secure about their environment and less anxious about the future.
That afternoon, as I was reading the Bob Marley’s lyrics and later on, when I heard my friend’s voice break during speeches, moved by everyone’s acceptance and open-mindedness, I sat there feeling proud of the progress our humanity has made that allows people to be authentic, regardless of their skin colour, sexual orientation, and many other preferences that make us different from each other. I hope this wonderful strength will continue to grow in our society, so that we can make our children’s futures even brighter than they are today.