Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Being Called Narrow-Minded

So I know that I am slightly narrow-minded. This is one accusation people today cannot deal with - it's so strange to be called narrow-minded. It's reductive, it assumes a lack of intelligence - in a tenuous way, it even kind of implies that you know no better - that your antecedents are no better. I don't know if narrow-minded people are irredeemably narrow-minded or just temporarily narrow-minded. It's hopefully not a permanent state of being. That would be dreadful - to be perpetually condemned as a narrow-minded person is scary. But then again, what is it that people mean when they say something like that? And more importantly - are some people truly in a position to qualify saying something like that - are they essentially free from the charge in the first place?

I feel that a lot of the times that I've called people narrow-minded I've meant it in a cultural sort of way. I've hurled the charge at them by way of cultural awareness and something along those lines - I've often felt that people unaware of the state of the world or people parochially entrenched in a ditch full of the commonplaces of their own four walls are narrow. I use it not as a reference to where they come from, or what language they speak, but certainly to the kind of responses they have to the world around them. Some of them are indifferent to the life that whirls and swirls and gushes tempest-tossed just beyond the barbed wires of their confines; these are the states of being that I have pointed the epithet at. Sometimes they have been justified, and sometimes not. It's not something that you can control - your assessment of someone is always, and is fated to be, subject to what you know of him or her. If you don't know much about her, but still think of her as a certain kind of person from what you DO know about her, well, then that is indisputable. You cannot help but think what you cannot help but think.

Other times, I have used the word more loosely. To harangue some people for not being open to ideas. To make fun of authorities who refuse to know anything but the rules that come prescribed in little green books. To make my own case stronger against someone else's, someone who clearly thinks in a way antithetical to my own - whether for better or worse, I know not. I have never really thought of using the word to mean myself - someone who is suspicious about the ways of the world, and the things people do, and the things people think when they do the things they do.

It's almost strange. It's like looking in the mirror for a long time and realizing these terrible gashes materializing out of nowhere - in spots you had never suspected, in ways you had noticed and criticized in other people. The mirror steadfastly refuses to budge and show you anything but what it flawlessly records. You stare and stare and try and discern the errors you hadn't noticed before. The more you look, the clearer they stand out and you see them like you had never seen them before. This is what startles me. The finding of almost hidden truths, glaring like gashes visible in the mirror, hiding all the time so effortlessly without the slightest hint.

But you know the gashes are there - clearer now by the moment. But it doesn't seem to me that being narrow-minded is a realization that can startle you one day out of the blue. It is probably more serious than that. It probably takes longer to know it, longer to see it and it simply does not come as a surprise. What do you do when someone says that you are narrow-minded because you cannot let other people be? That you are narrow-minded because you don't accept them as who they are?

Let other people be? Who is anyone to let anyone else be? If anyone ought to exist, he should exist independent of the likes or dislikes, opinions or condemnations of any other people. If someone were to be effectively permitted to live, then that person's claim to a sound and rational life is fairly compromised, almost wholly so. Because that person ought not to be able to breathe on his own, but mainly according to the convenience of those around him. He ought to feel every whim and fancy of those you surround him and gratiate them willingly. Such a man is despicable. Truly unworthy of the recognition of no one around him. He ought to breathe feely, independently, of his own will. Not servilely because others let him.

The charge against me is that I am norrow-minded because I judge people for being certain things. Firstly, why must I not judge? Why must I deny myself the capacity to think, like or discern. It is clearly wrong in the grossest sense to expect anyone to like everyone. It is perfectly rational to expect that people are subject to their value-systems, that they work according to the ways of their own worlds inside, dictating their feelings and judgments. And why not? They are meant to feel the power of their own discretion and to use it gainfully. If I feel that I cannot like someone, or feel the need to accept someone's company or presence, it is entirely a consequence of my own judgment. Why must that be narrow-minded? I feel sometimes that I can trust my understanding of other people's motives and feelings and intentions. This is not to say that I am assured I am right - in fact, quite the contrary. I know for certain that I could be grossly wrong. But that has nothing to do what the immediate value-judgment I allow myself to form - why not? It is the business of my mind and my rational faculties to inform my intuition. If if feel I am justified in feeling something about someone, I ought to respect it for being what it is - simply a matter of my own personal values. I need not always feel the need to go around excavating the truth of everything I see. It does not matter to me. What does matter is that I respond to my intuition rationally and allow myself the freedom to act according to that rational response to the dictates of my feelings.

That does not make anyone narrow-minded. It makes the person independent to do what he or she thinks is right. That is human rationality. It ought to remain so.