Disputing A Closed Mind
Like you, I have come across, and lived, with many people of different Couleur in my life, both in Europe and elsewhere around the world. I cannot claim that they included murderers, torturers or kidnappers amongst their number, but there was certainly a very mixed collection of people from a wide variety of nations. My advantage, if one can call it that, is that I met them on their own home turf – in the wild, you could say – and not gathered together in one institution where their freedoms and the manner in which they behaved and expressed themselves were cut back or even muted beyond recognition. I discovered that many of them had a form of Code which they kept to, something ordinary people would not necessarily have believed, but certainly understood since, to my way of thinking, every single person has a Code of their own, a set of standards they try to keep which, they believe, helps them remain above the level of an animal and sustains their pride in what they do, how they live their lives. You can pick this idea of the personal Code up from Hollywood films, which often try and represent their subjects as ordinary people caught up in a bad trade, or as exceptional people set far above the capabilities of everyone else.
When you get to know these people, on a social rather than a business level, they come out as ordinary, friendly men and women doing what they believe is their job in the world, and keeping the status quo level and even. They are an integral part of society without which, they believe, society would also not be capable of functioning properly. Whether other people agree that murderers and rapists help to keep a society functioning as it should do is another matter entirely.
What I have found interesting about all those who I have met, always on a social level, is that they believe in what they do – and I am not talking about those who have been drawn into a ‘trade’ against their will, but those who have chosen to be what they are – and suffer very few people who contradict their belief. With their own personal Code and the work that they do as best they can, many of them could be called closed minded, simply because they see no need of any other way to live. As I say, this excludes those who come into a certain way of life, the criminal milieu, through anything other than a professional path; those who kill in rage or emotion, kidnap rape or otherwise harm people without any real plan or need on the spur of the moment. This closed mindedness, however, changes when they come into touch with different parts of society, with people who have other ideas or who have lived a completely different life.
Those who have claimed, both in the profiles and in letters or conversations with me, to be open minded have often been shown to be pretty much the opposite. I have come across many who claim to be open to new ideas, to a different way of life, to a process which would change things, and discovered that their defences go immediately you mention anything different to that which they claim to believe in. Politics and religion – subjects that I normally avoid – are the prime examples of this. There is no political or religious path but the one which has been chosen, and no number of examples, no pieces of good advice, no stories of success can convince these people otherwise. And that, often, with people of seemingly high intelligence quota – my own IQ has been measured variously at between 162 and 184 depending on which system has been used, but I lay little worth of the figures – who one would have thought would be more inclined to learn and to advance their level of knowledge, have proven to be those most stuck in their ways. Only a few years ago I came across a college professor in New York who refused to read a certain weekly periodical simply because the political jokes published did not match her own political beliefs. Of course, as we know, humour, politics and religion do not mix.
Sometimes it is a matter of upbringing, sometimes of education, sometimes again of experience within the society where a person lives and works. We all have our influences, and we all follow our own pathway through life, convinced that it is the correct one and most other people are wrong. I wouldn’t care to dispute this, since often the path chosen is the right one for that particular person, and they would never have been able to fit themselves into any other way of life. But there are a few who experience the one side, and then are exposed to another, and yet another, and manage to weigh up all these various and varying experiences to reach a way of life completely different to what one might have expected, might have prophesied. These few, in my view lucky, people have not so much an open mind as a receptive one, and an analytical way of thinking which allows them, in the blink of an eye, to make an assessment and adapt accordingly.
My own origins were very much in a male-oriented society initially, with a certain degree of separation between the sexes during the earliest school years – bearing in mind that this was the Sixties and the major levels of integration we know and appreciate today hadn’t worked their way through the entire system, through all of society at the time – which was changed when I moved on to the middle level of education and, to a certain extent, was allowed to educate myself. I say that very much tongue-in-cheek because by educating myself I was going against the teachings of the school system, which I had discovered to be inadequate, and doing research, gaining knowledge and experiences through my own reading, my own travelling. This, I later discovered, was the preferred teaching method of the ancient Romans and Greeks, and also normal in both the United States and Europe until the Prussian (German) system of education, with specific specialist areas being taught over and above ethics, rhetoric, mathematics, geometry, oration and so on, came into fashion in the mid-nineteenth century. A child was given a basic education in the first three major subjects, then a further education – if they had proven themselves worthy – in a further four at college or university level, and expected to educate themselves further beyond that. Bearing in mind the phenomenal thinkers and writers who emerged in – predominantly – European society prior to the change in educational teaching methods, clearly an excellent system.
As you can probably surmise, my own direction outside the school system – which I still managed to work through successfully – took me towards the classical thinkers of Rome and Athens, amongst many others of later years, and classical literature to compliment the philosophy. A smattering of historical work added to the glitter of the whole, and to the way in which I not only look upon the world, but also the manner in which I receive, consider and accept or reject information designed to become either knowledge, or nothing more than experience. Here I cut experience into several different pieces of cake: experience which adds to knowledge and assists the path towards wisdom; experience which adds to knowledge but detracts from values and truth and is, therefore not an addition towards wisdom. The many classical writers and works which I occasionally quote from are merely there as an addition to my own thoughts and writings, as another method of expressing the ideas I put down on paper. Sometimes the words of a third party can bring an idea across far better than one’s own words.
When I say that I avoid politics and religion, this is because there is no real and workable method of showing a political or religious opinion which would be acceptable to someone else, unless that person already held the same opinion. A debate or discussion between a group of people who are all already of the same opinion is like a sewing circle working on a quilt: the work gets bigger and bigger, but tends to look the same no matter which direction you observe it from. Everyone is doing exactly the same as their neighbour, lacking originality and creativity. That is not to say everyone should have a different opinion when they come into a debate or discussion, more they should have their experiences ready, and be prepared not only to share them, but also to listen and discuss openly those opinions held by other people. The idea should not be to convince someone that their way is wrong and your own is right, but to give them an option through new information, which they can think about in their own time in order to arrive at their own conclusion and amend or even cement their opinion.
Of course, we would not have this level of discussion on any level other than political and religious were it not for the Bluestockings, as they were called: a group of intelligent and intellectual women in eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century Europe who opened salons where discussion was demanded as much as innovation and enlightenment. At the same time, we would be missing many, many other parts of our history and present day conveniences were it not for the brilliance of those women who didn’t stay in the kitchen, who were not content with reading, writing and watercolours, but went out into the world and gained a real education – often educating themselves when the male-dominated system let them down – and brought real change. We would not, for example, have computers as we know them today, but for the mathematical work of a woman. The Apollo 11 landing would not have been possible, but that a woman calculated the trajectory – and a coloured woman at that – and the Enigma code of the Germans, in World War Two, could not have been cracked without the analytical brilliance of a group of women. Where would the United States be now but for Eleanor Roosevelt? Rosa Parks and many others who are, sadly, nameless but, in their own way, have brought much more to life than dinner to the table each evening.
That is, of course, not to say that there aren’t some women who are eminently suited to their chosen role of being mother and wife, exactly the same as some men are too, if they can overcome the hurdle of a macho- or misogynistic social upbringing. There are people on both sides of the gender divide who cross the line and are better suited – not based on their sex, but on their abilities and their knowledge, intellect and strength – to fulfil those tasks some deem only suited for one or the other sex. Of course there are areas where women are not suited to the work done, especially on the physical side of things, but that certainly doesn’t cut them out from every other possibility within society. The days when a woman had to adopt a male name or publish anonymously have long since gone, just the same as the days when institutions such as the Royal Academy in London or Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris dominated all that was considered art have vanished, as, indeed, they should have done. Where would we be without Agatha Christie or, in more modern times, J. K. Rowling? Neither one stayed in the kitchen, and for that we are all – or most of us – very grateful indeed.
But, as I say, it is not up to me or anyone else to convince a person that their way, their train of thought is wrong: often it is not wrong at all, it works perfectly for them, and that is fine. All I can do is offer what I have experienced in my lifetime, what I have learned as I’ve travelled the world, and allow other people, who have perhaps not had the same opportunities as myself, the possibility of considering my lifestyle, my life-experience and researching or reconsidering for themselves. Which, again, is why I avoid politics and religion as the two subjects where people are hard and fast convinced, and very little will change their minds to a different position, even when – as we are seeing at the moment both in the United States and the United Kingdom – that stance is damaging to themselves, their way of life, their future.
Two amusing stories connected to two of the things I’ve written about above: the name Impressionist was initially used as an insult by a French art critic – Louis Leroy – who used the name of Claude Monet’s painting Impression, soleil levant to denigrate the painting style, and was quickly turned against him and other Academy members to become a major and very highly respected artistic movement. And the term Bluestockings was also used as a means of denigrating a very respectable intellectual movement, partially because it became one mostly for women even though men were expressly invited to participate. Apparently a man who visited one of the salons to give a talk could not afford the fashionable black stockings needed for public duties, and wore the leisurely blue coloured ones, which caused some derision amongst those wishing to play the whole movement down, or who felt so threatened by it that they had to find a demeaning name. Nothing says more about a person’s character when the best they can do to fight against a group of collection of people is to give them a derogatory name and laugh at them because of it.
But, finally, I am not so sure that you are a closed minded as you may believe, simply because of the last sentences in your letter:
I will receive & respond to your letters but I’m really not opened minded at all. I can & will listen & respond respectfully though.
To my way of thinking this is not a closed mind: the ability and the willingness to hear an argument different to your own, and to respond to it respectfully does not hint at someone who has shut himself off from the rest of the world, from discussion or from other ideas, more of someone who wishes to learn through the experiences of others and, when something makes sense and is viable, plausible or proven to be correct, adapts his own actions and opinions accordingly.