Staying open to new ideas can lead to personal growth.
In our current cultural moment it seems that people enjoy pointing out how they differ from others. Unique aspects of background and environment become signs of distinction that signal membership in a particular identity. These groups then become a kind of societal “selfie.”
While many people find meaning in this, it brings to my mind the question of just what we share in common as a society. What do we still call our common knowledge, and how much importance do we give to it?
Examples of this include the recognition that our form of government arose in part from that of Athens, in ancient Greece, and the Roman Republic. These classical leadership structures contribute to the way we lead ourselves now. In the area of literature, it helps to know a little about Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare and Milton, because what they wrote led to later writers such as Hawthorne and Faulkner. These serve as cultural touchstones that better inform our understanding of the direction our current society takes. Forgetting our shared past locks a well-stocked vault we may find difficult to open again.
Openness to new ideas and creations becomes just as important as preserving conversations with history. This applies to us on a personal level as well. Though America sometimes serves as the land of personal reinvention, every experience in our lives shapes what we think and feel about ourselves.
We take pictures of ourselves with cameras in our phones. Sometimes we give the phone to others, asking if they will take our picture. The result provides an image of us at that particular moment without providing personal details from our past. Thus, it helps to look at the picture and to remember the history behind it. This comes from an informed perspective freed from guilt and stereotypes, and it helps us to reaffirm our present, personal moment.
Even as we remember our public and private histories, it helps to recall actual events as they happened rather that how we wish they took place. Reaching a consensus in this area makes our common points more apparent, thus making wider and broader discussions of issues possible.
Building personal mythologies tends to distract us from exploring the reaches of our inner selves where new insights remain undeveloped. Taking refreshed views of ourselves leads to breakthroughs in coping with problems and in growing relationships. Though the importance of acknowledging differences among people remains, a country as large and varied as ours also calls for identified points in common. One commonality we seem to need right now involves being civil with each other when we disagree. This promotes both personal and national well-being.
When going to another country, it helps to see similarities in people to build a good rapport. A label tells us what nationality we are, while we recognize traits shared with the people of that nation. We accept the differences and we acknowledge what unites us.
The better we know ourselves, our backgrounds and our history, the finer our appreciation of ourselves becomes. In the time we have now, we can help each other to do this.
Scott Toler is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor living in Plant City. He can be reached at [email protected].