For many, college might be the greatest opportunity for individuals to share, refine, learn and experience new ideas.
Troy University, perhaps more so than other universities, is a place where great diversity exists in a very concentrated area.
In the midst of a small town in the deep South, one can meet Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Coptic Christians, Catholics and students of other faiths and creeds. This list only highlights the diversity of religious belief, but is a mere fraction of the richness of Troy’s student body in relation to culture, nationality and language.
College is an unparalleled opportunity to explore the world through different ideas, cultures and languages, but this opportunity is often squandered.
Even if we try to take advantage of the cultural richness at Troy, oftentimes we are inhibited by our own personal biases.
Everyone has biases. There is no way to not have a biases.
Our biases create the foundation for how we live, think, relate and view the world.
They are not bad, but where our biases get us in trouble is when they close our minds to that which is new, foreign or strange.
Knowing our own biases is key because it allows us to understand the weaknesses of how we listen, learn and think.
Being open minded is only possible when we understand our biases and why we have them.
Foremost, we must understand that being open minded is not a negative word, nor does it mean believing everything or, perhaps, believing nothing.
Simply put, an open mind is willing to examine new ideas or beliefs critically without restoring or relying on a prior bias towards the message or the speaker.
Listening is key to effectively having an open mind.
I know, as a Christian, I am encouraged to share my beliefs with others, but the importance of listening is often not stressed as much as sharing.
Listening, not just hearing, to other’s beliefs is harder than sharing our beliefs because it requires something of us.
Ultimately, when our biases prevent us from listening, we undergo great loss.
We lose the opportunity to engage in a global conversation that spans countries, cultures, races, colors and creeds.
Instead of viewing different ideas as dangerous, we should view them as great blessings.
Open dialogue and critical questions, inevitably, test the strength of our own beliefs.
If we have believed without understanding, our beliefs will falter when questioned.
If we share our beliefs with those that do not necessarily believe in them, we refine them and understand them better.
Receiving critical dialogue with an open mind is healthy for cultivating strong faith.
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living.
Likewise, unexamined beliefs are not worth having.
But, most importantly, ideas must be shared without hostility or pride.
Conversations should never be contests because neither relationships nor converts are ever won.
It is through relationship and mutual respect that people learn and believe.
As we spend these years as students at Troy University, let us strive to be open minded, to listen genuinely and to test our own ideas.
Doing so will lead to better relationships, more genuine conversations and a richer college