“The stronger your beliefs, the narrower your viewpoints. Strongly held beliefs are a sign of constricted boundaries and restricted awareness.”
– Deepak Chopra, from The Soul of Leadership, Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness
When I first read this quote, I was a bit taken aback. Aren’t we supposed to develop and hold strong opinions? Aren’t we supposed to be passionate about our ideas and ready to defend them? Aren’t we supposed to take a position? Isn’t that what leadership is all about?
But then I thought about it more. I thought about it in the context of our world today, our divisiveness, our willingness to label and blame anyone who doesn’t agree with us. And I thought, yeah, having a strong opinion does close our minds, because our strong opinions often force us to be “right” and make everyone else “wrong”.
I had a conversation with a very good friend yesterday that brought this lesson home. She has a very strong (and totally understandable) position on GMO foods. A lot of people do. I asked the question of her “What’s the difference between a plant/food that has been genetically modified in the laboratory versus the genetically modified foods we have been eating for centuries via cross-pollination and grafting?” (And we’re not going to discuss the answer to that question now.)
The point is that she started to pull out her phone to convince me how bad GMO foods were. She pulled up a You Tube video and had me listen to it, which was very difficult in a crowded restaurant. Giving up, I gave the phone back to her and told her I’d watch it later. She looked at me thoughtfully and said something to the effect of “if you want.”
She, in the moment, gave up on her quest to “convince me” she was right. She still believes strongly in her position, but she didn’t have to make me believe her too. That’s a good first step.
But both of us created a problem. I didn’t really listen to her. And she didn’t really listen to me.
I didn’t listen to her, because although I did acknowledge that what she told me seemed to point to a problem with GMO’s, I didn’t go back and listen to that video later. Lack of curiosity on my part? Or was that my strong opinion getting in the way of my curiosity and an open mind?
She didn’t listen to me, because although she backed off from defending her position, she didn’t ask herself if there was any validity in my question.
We both opted not to leave room for discussion, clarification and learning more.
That’s where strong opinions block us. They keep us from being free to continue the exploration, from expanding our horizons, from getting closer to the truth.
Our strong opinions are often comfortable. It’s been decided. Done. I don’t have to think about it anymore. The world is flat. Why should I listen to some crazy person saying it’s round?
Yet, where would the world be if we didn’t challenge strong opinions, if we didn’t keep looking for answers beyond the obvious.
Strong opinions keep us stuck in a narrow-minded view. It’s not always bad to have them, but they will keep you from true adventure if you don’t question them once in a while.
Let’s keep questioning… curiosity is a prerequisite for adventure.