THE BEST GIFT: AN OPEN MIND?

Do you avoid certain conversations with people who hold strong points of view that differ from yours? I admit I sometimes sidestep controversial topics if I believe little positive will come from the exchange.

When I do “lean in” to my discomfort to engage in a difficult conversation around a hot-button topic, I try to give what I want to get in return: an open mind and thoughtful discourse. The latter requires well-reasoned opinions based on available facts. But how can you be sure you have reliable, nonpartisan information?

Sources Supporting Critical Thinking
In today’s climate of 24/7 “news,” we always can find a source to reinforce what we want to believe. But what can be more helpful and life-affirming are sources that help us think critically—and minds open enough to seek them.

For many years I have enjoyed The Week. This print news magazine and website collates reporting on wide-ranging topics from diverse worldwide sources into a succinct, user-friendly format—but lets the reader come to his or her own conclusions. For me, it has proven very few issues are truly “black and white,” but rather much more complex.

Recently I was introduced to procon.org, a non-partisan website that fleshes out the pros and cons of provocative issues like concealed handguns, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), medical marijuana or even vegetarianism (one I encounter a lot since becoming a vegetarian more than a decade ago). I plan to rely on this site as another tool for ensuring I’m aware of arguments on both (or many) sides of an issue.

Checking Facts
Another kind of difficult conversation occurs when you know a “fact” being shared is not accurate. Most of us have received email “forwards” that contain erroneous information. When email claims are suspicious, I check them out at snopes.com and/or factcheck.org, both of which purport to be unbiased. If I determine an email is a hoax or a fact is inaccurate, I reply to the sender with the information from the site and let them decide whether to share it with others who received the email. Some do. Some don’t. But I rarely get an unvetted forward from that source again.

Note: Some email hoaxes say their information has been confirmed by snopes.com or another fact-checking site. My rule of thumb: Always check for yourself.

A Great Gift
It concerns me that our world seems to be polarizing into intransigent camps of belief more intent on clinging to that belief than finding truth or compromise. I believe differing points of view are crucial to finding the best answers to the problems we face today—and will contend with tomorrow. To get to those answers, we must be willing to keep an open mind, use all the tools at our disposal for critical thinking and actively work together on real solutions.

That’s why I believe the greatest gift we can give today’s children isn’t teaching them what to think, but how to think and live rationally, reasonably and empathically.

What do you think? I hope you’ll share your thoughts.