God has many attributes that define WHO He IS. While God’s characteristics and attributes are uniquely Trinitarian by nature and unattainable for us humans,[for example, not one of us is or ever will be self existent, supreme, sovereign, transcendent, the one and Only God, every present, incomprehensible, infinite, always was and always will be, all-powerful, unchanging] our personal goals still can be and should be to strive to live virtuous lives — for “the goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” [CCC 1803]
The sole purpose of these monthly virtue articles is to help us think about different virtues; assess how well we are putting them to work in our lives; and assess how well we are imprinting them on our children. Because,“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” [CCC1803]
This month we are going to study the virtue of impartiality or open-mindedness. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great and the mighty and the terrible God who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widows, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” [Deuteronomy 10:17-18. RSV - Catholic Edition]
Note that God’s impartiality facilitates the execution of perfect justice, kindness, patience, long-suffering, righteousness, and love. Similarly, arming ourselves with impartiality helps US to execute justice, kindness, patience, long suffering, righteousness and love more perfectly. Every virtue learned “develops a habitual and firm disposition to do the good, perform the good acts, and to give the best of self. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all of his/her sensory and spiritual powers. He/she pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” [CCC1803] Conversely, when we fail to develop habitual and deliberate dispositions to do good, perform good acts, and to give the best of self, it will be nearly impossible to execute even somewhat justice and love. Vice will lay claim to the rightful place that should be occupied by virtue — if we intend to LOVE God and others well.
What is open-mindedness or impartiality? The classic definition is: having the ability to be/remain unbiased, impartial, un-bigoted towards any one race, class or person. Additionally, Christians are reminded that open-mindedness ought to mean: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength… Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.” [Isaiah 11:1-10]
Our children are born impartial and open-minded, don't you agree? They are perfectly open to learning about God. They are open to learning in general. They are open to new people. They are OPEN to suggestions of all types. Some of these children will remain open-minded and optimistic their whole life while not forsaking true faith in God. Unfortunately, too many of us need to re-learn impartiality almost daily for different reasons; in fact, many of us struggle with learning how and why it is important to be open-minded even towards various family members. It seems particularly difficult to remain impartial toward those who are our obstacles to all kinds of different virtues including the people most unlike ourselves. Nevertheless, it is important to think about and strive to put forth the effort to become open-minded according to Isaiah and for the same reasons; that we judge the poor justly and do aright for the world we live in.
So what happens if we fail to strive for impartiality? It - the virtue — will give way to the opposing vice. As impartiality wanes, partiality waxes. When open mindedness increases, bigotry increases. The loss of open-mindedness is to blame for the widespread distrust, dislike, and partiality in so many arenas of life including social, economic, philosophical, religious, and political arenas.
Some of you might wonder how it is possible to arm yourself with impartiality and open-mindedness when experiencing what seems like unwarranted ad hominem attacks from co-workers, friends, family or even society at large because of long-held personal beliefs? And what about our children? Parents often worry for the safety or security of their children. But realistically, can parents really protect self or children from biases and/or prejudices and lack of open-mindedness that others may exhibit? Perhaps, we ought to focus on arming ourselves and our children with virtue so that we learn go forth “as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. [Matthew 10:16] Preparation for wisdom requires us to arm ourselves with natural, spiritual and moral virtues including Faith, Hope and Love. Preparation for being as harmless as doves means arming self with meekness, innocence, purity and open-mindedness. Likewise, we ought to teach our children not to feel as if they are victims of unfortunate circumstances. For example, our daughter Kyra sometimes asks why she has Down Syndrome. Either we arm her with facts about Down Syndrome and show her that life is not defined by her physical or mental limitations [we all have them, they are just exhibited differently in people] but by her love and character. Or, we teach her to feel sorry for herself for drawing the genetic defect lottery. We opt for the first set of explanations and it seems to work well for her. In fact, we have tried to teach all of our children when they complain about having an imperfect nose, toes, or frame, to take it up with God - if they dare — because He created them not us. Similarly, we have also tried to teach our children to honor the recipient of any gift received and the gift itself — even if it is imperfect. There are no returns in this house unless it’s to adjust for size. So you can see how life lessons can work both generally and specifically.
Similarly, we teach young children not to run into busy streets by screaming for their attention and talking about the terrible consequences from getting hit by a car! The lesson is mis-taught if we try to blame others for our own mistakes. = My father ran over a young child who had darted out into the street years ago [all of us were in the car with him] and he suffered right alongside the injured child. Fortunately, the young boy survived.
When we suggest that certain peoples are more problematic than others; we teach our children to lose their open-mindedness. When we blame others, we do the same. When we refuse to check verifiable facts, we lose personal open-mindedness. When we accept here-say as factual, we erode open-mindedness — in others and us. When we group people by race, sex, sexual preference, religion, political leanings, economics, and other categories, we do open-mindedness a disservice. Certainly, parents have to instill caution, carefulness, discernment, and independence in their children. But it should not come about by negating other personal virtues — including open-mindedness. Parents have a delicate dance to swing to — that’s for sure and it begins early.
I have to admit my own lack of open-mindedness on a daily basis — but —striving for virtue counts for something — doesn’t it? Let me tell you about an embarrassing incident when I was in a 5th grader living in a small ND town that had just been selected to be a site of a large Radar Base. This was an era when a lot of residents seemed afraid of two different ‘ enemies’ — the Russians [and their nuclear weapons] and the new, young, black men walking the streets of town. Still not sure who the residents feared the most. The minorities were the first people of color to be seen in these parts — ever — and so parents were afraid for their children although the reasons were never voiced — just the fear. This Radar base had several different effects on our family. For some unknown reason, I developed a real fear of Radar Base personnel. In fact, I would run across the street and hide behind a tree if a young black man approached me from the same side of the sidewalk. Fortunately, my older siblings ‘tattled’ on me and my parents tried to set me straight but somehow, I was afraid of black men. Where did this partiality stem from? Certainly not my parents and let me explain why.
St. Joseph’s Grade School hired a Mrs. Smiley to teach first grade. She was the wife of one of the officers at the Radar Base. She was brand new to town. She was well qualified. She was Catholic. She was black. Parents were up in arms about her hiring so the school officials invited everyone to meet and greet Mrs. Smiley and then decide whether or not to pull their child from her classroom. My parents were comfortable with her — in fact — she was a most excellent teacher according to my mother all during the school year. Mom considered her one of the best teachers ever hired by St. Joseph’s. The next year she left because her husband had been transferred. This was a life long lesson in impartiality. Why did my impartiality take a hit? Fear of the unknown in both instances replaced open-mindedness. Fortunately, these incidents taught me a lot about the wrongness of my hiding and the rightness of Mrs. Smiley. And, it allowed me to be very accepting of the marriage of my sister to a young man from Nigeria years ago.
And so, being open-minded is really a challenge for most of us according to David K. Williams, who writes in the Forbes Magazine that the majority of people struggle with open-mindedness. [The 5 Secret Strategies Of Great People: How To Become Open Minded In 2013. David K. Williams. Forbes. January 7, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkwilliams/2013/01/07/the-5-secret-tricks-of-great-people-how-to-become-open-minded-in-2013/#4aed829d3bb3.
So, we know why this virtue is important to claim for self; but how do we do it, practice it? Hopefully the following list is helpful.
- Pray daily this month for the virtue of impartiality.
- Keep a daily journal of instances in which you felt you gained/lost impartiality/partiality. What were the circumstances? What did you do? How did you react? What did you teach your children?
- Talk about this virtue with your children. Define it for them. Help them to better understand its importance.
- Lose control over your LIFE! Yes, that’s exactly what I meant to type. We are all mostly control freaks that work at controlling all aspects of our lives. Yet, at times we have to set that aside in order to learn what it means to be open-minded and impartial. “When you open your mind, you free yourself from having to be in complete control…” Open-mindedness allows you to change what you think and how you view the world and others; it might also reinforce your current beliefs more strongly — but thinking with an open mind gives you the option of creating positive change and stronger results according to Danielle DiPirro, author of Stay Positive: Daily Reminders from Positively Present .
- Admit that you do not know everything — only God does. Knowing that we do not have all the answers all of the time should help us to realize that we are not gods. This realization should help you to open yourself up to new people and friends. This new realization should help you be more authentic to others and self. Make new friends; talk to new people.
- Admit your mistakes and then learn from them. Journal about your mistakes. Danielle DiPiro calls this opportunity the pathway to empowerment: failing up.
- Learning from our mistakes grows our self confidence and self identity (awareness of our personal strengths and weaknesses and beliefs).
- Be honest with yourself and others — always — even in little matters.
- Write down biases that crop on any one day — against family members, friends, or even people you don’t know. Ask God to help you overcome these negative thoughts and feelings and biases.
- Listen more than you talk. Learn from others.
- Pray daily the prayer of St. Francis:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
10. Avoid making snap decisions — think things through.
11. Be thankful for other’s suggestions and help.
12. Encourage frankness from others.
13. Don’t hold grudges when someone is frank with you.
14. Search out new opportunities and people this year.
15. Approach challenges differently this year.
16. Have a Peace - filled Christmas. Take the time to do things differently, so the season is not lost to busy-ness. Have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.