Open ears help open minds

By Gus Bode

When I was fifteen I decided to be a hippy.

I donned long skirts, shunned my bra, and joined a yoga class, mostly so I could say things like “Yes, I’ll meet you after yoga” and “I feel so relaxed after yoga.”

The teacher was a beautiful woman named Charlotte, and she had a lot to say. During the first class she told us that whatever she said we were allowed to discount. If we liked it we should embrace it, but if we didn’t agree we could feel free to completely ignore it. At fifteen, no adult had ever come close to introducing such an idea to me.


My interest in yoga and long skirts has ended, and I do enjoy the support of my bra now, but those words of permission have come back to me recently.

I remember how much easier it was for me to listen to her after having that authority to ignore what I didn’t like. Her ability to heal her cats with her bare hands [not true]. Thinking positively about people we didn’t like [maybe useful later]. Breathing only from the diaphragm rather than the chest [too much work]. Imagining a flower growing from the navel of any one seeking to intimidate us [both useful and amusing].

Just think what this could mean if we all practiced it. If one thing that a person says or thinks does not agree with us, we could ignore it and still like the person.

In theory, of course this is great fun; in practice, it is a bit harder. Could you share a love of gardening, for instance, with someone who insisted on wearing his Nazi armband while planting tulip bulbs? It would be difficult.

The same goes for many situations in life.

When a professor tried to teach the story of Job as a work of fiction in a classroom with more than one Christian in it, people threw their hands up. They were jumping out of their seat to defend their God, who is depicted in the book of Job in a most unflattering way. In the story, God, trying to make a point to Satan, destroys the life of one of his most faithful and righteous followers. Job eventually questions God and gets anger in response.

One woman compared it to being a parent. Her son had no right to question her. She paid the bills. We had no right to question God, regardless of what happened to us. In response to the analogy of parenthood, another classmate said if you were putting out cigarettes on the arm of your child, you would hope that he would question you. The Christian glazed over and said she was a child of God and would never do something like that.


At this point I checked out completely. It had stopped being a discussion and had begun to be a tent revival. Not a crack was going to break; no one was trying to open minds or think out loud. It was verbal diarrhea, and the classroom was a toilet. Regardless of what I thought, how could I sit there and be expected to listen to other points of view? I was sick of being open-minded when all I was opening myself up for was close-minded thinking.

I stayed in this mindset for a while. Flipping off the radio or the television when something I didn’t agree with reached my ears. No more, right or wrong. I knew I wasn’t going to change and neither were they.

Another classroom experience brought me back down to earth. In history we were to read the Autobiography of Mother Jones, a book written by a woman who went off to form unions among the working class at the turn of the century. She was the most feared woman in America, and if it weren’t for her, many of us would be working in the mines today.

I found the book to raise some interesting questions and thoughts about life in America and what large corporations are capable of. I sat down in class, ready to hear the reaction from my classmates. The only response, however, was a clear questioning of the book’s authenticity.

“How can an old woman climb a hill? It just doesn’t seem true.” These people picked apart a few of the more dramatic scenes in the book and questioned them on factual merit alone and never went near any of the moving philosophies or shocking allegations about our government.

In this day and age, to question the worth and practices of this country will get you into many uncomfortable situations; we have been told that by the press, society and our parents. These students had closed their minds and stayed in the safe zone. They were what I had to look forward to if I closed myself off. I can’t say that I liked what I saw.

In the garden with the Nazi, would I try to convince him that hating Jews is wrong? No, I can’t say I would. I don’t think I would be successful. But maybe if we started with perennials versus annuals we could go from there.

Any discussion is worth having, and anyone is worth listening to; without the dialogue and without our ability to listen we have nothing and will remain stagnant. Listen and sort; you don’t have to like everything. But take what you can get and never stop having an open ear, and the mind will follow.