Monday, April 18, 2011

An Open Mind is a Terrible Thing To Waste

Not long ago I spent the week giving tours at my kid’s elementary school. This is by far my favorite volunteer position of the year, largely because I love the school so much but also because it’s the only time I can talk and talk and talk and talk and someone actually listens to what I have to say.

Since I’m organizing the thing, I usually have several other tour guides with me each day, and I send them out with a half dozen people as a group starts to amass. My tour goes at the end. It’s usually the group of “stragglers.” The people who show up late (sometimes very late). I don’t care how late they are though, because giving tours makes me so unspeakably happy.

However one of the days was not the exercise in unbounded ecstasy that I had hoped.

It was rainy. Two of the tour guides canceled and I was only able to replace one. So we had fewer people than we needed, and of course, that would be the day that more parents showed up. It seemed under control at first, but as I was starting my tour, my straggler group instantly doubled in size. Suddenly, I had far too many people, but that wasn’t the worst of it. My group seemed a little grumpy.

No one said anything outright grumpy, but, as my grandmother would say, there were a couple of people with a big puss on their face. (This, by the way, is something my grandmother would say mostly about me.) I wasn’t sure what the nature of their grumpiness was, but I convinced myself that some of the people in my group had already made up their minds that they didn’t like the school. And I could feel my bliss start slipping away.

I think one of the reasons the group’s mood affected me so much is because I do that all the time. I make up my mind about something before I even give it any thought and then I cling to that opinion as if my very life depended on it.

I didn’t even realize I do this until this thing happened the other day: I actually changed my mind about something. Not about something like What Should We Have For Dinner Tonight? It was more of a moral something – and it was provoked by column I’d read. I disagreed with the author in a knee jerk way and I felt more and more righteous as I read the reader comments, all of which agreed with the writer. I spent days mulling over how I might respond to the article. Whether I should be haughty or high-minded. Everything I composed in my mind seemed apt to make other people feel small.

And then this completely bizarre thing happened. I reread the original story and I thought the writer made a good point. In fact, I agreed with her. And all of a sudden, I felt my whole body lighten up, not from being swept into the mainstream (because her view was a typically unpopular one) but because I was able to relax my Always Having To Be Right muscles. And when I noticed how easy it had been – to do a complete 180 – the sheer act of it made me giddy.

During Tour Week I was so drained from what I perceived as the resoluteness of my group that one day that I came home and crawled right into bed. It wasn’t until the following week that I had my big mind-changing experience, and I spent a lot of that day marveling about how easy it was to do. Poof. Just change your mind about something. I think everyone should try it.

Or maybe not.

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