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O is for Openness

“There's just some magic in truth and honesty and openness.” Frank Ocean

What is openness?

Openness is the quality of being receptive to new ideas, opinions, arguments and change generally. Open-mindedness is achieved through active listening, by putting assumptions and pre-conceived ideas aside and approaching with curiosity and interest, using creativity and imagination to look at things from different perspectives and having a growth mindset and a desire to learn.

Openness is also about lowering your mask, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and letting people see the real you, what you think etc It is about being real, present and sincere without pretensions People who live a WYSIWYG life enjoy better mental and physical health because they do not waste time and energy trying to portray something that they are not and aim to keep their actions consistent with their considered beliefs.

Openness, is one of the Big Five factors of personality. The Big Five theory suggests that personality is composed of five major dimensions spelling the acronym OCEAN:

Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion; Agreeableness, Neuroticism

Each trait is experienced on a continuum, we can be at different points with regards to each trait and where we are influences our physical health, mental health, school, work, and social relationships.

“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it” Terry Pratchet

What are the characteristics of open-minded people?

People who are open often have a greater awareness of their surroundings. They consciously pay attention.

"Open yourself and flow, my friend. Flow in the total openness of the living moment."

Bruce Lee

Open people are ‘comfortable in their own skin’ perhaps because they have faced up to all aspects of themselves and have accepted their imperfect perfection with compassion

“The meaning of life is found in openness to being and "being present" in full awareness.” Thomas Merton

Open people are perhaps more receptive and aware of the emotional responses of others therefore they have the potential for greater connection.

"Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start." Jason Collins

By keeping an open attitude, we allow ourselves the possibility of experiencing more opportunities for engaging exchanges and connection.

“The openness of our hearts and minds can be measured by how wide we draw the circle of what we call family.” Mother Teresa

Open-minded people, learn to put aside their assumptions and learnt prejudices and seek to find common ground with curiosity.

"Honesty and openness is always the foundation of insightful dialogue." Bell Hooks

When we feel connected we are more likely to respond with compassion

“Compassionate action emerges from the sense of openness, connectedness, and discernment you have created.” Joan Halifax

It has been shown that more open people can feel very complex emotional states and seemingly incompatible feelings can break through into their consciousness simultaneously. E.g. laughing when nervous, crying then laughing

Experiments in personality psychology show that open-minded people process information in different ways and see the world differently from the average person with more opportunities and possibilities They have a better ability to ‘think outside the box’. They experience the world in a more ‘full on’ manner because their perception allows more information to flow into their visual system, and so see and feel things that others block out. They can often ‘fill in the gaps’ without realising or spot things that others will naturally miss whilst they are concentrating on the essentials

How do we develop the characteristics of openness?

“Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but rather from getting to know them well” Pema Chodron

When we accept ourselves ‘warts and all’ and can learn to acknowledge, identify and face our fears, it allows us to open ourselves to different experiences with greater ease.

“If we are to use our minds rightly, we must live in an attitude of constant openness and learning” Dallas Willard

Learning is part of what makes us human: we have a natural curiosity and we are natural learners. We develop and grow thanks to our ability to learn and in so doing we improve our quality of life, our relationships, shape our values and sense of self-worth as we pay attention and take action to explore ideas and goals that inspire us.

“Openness of mind strengthens the truth in us and removes the dross from it, if there is any.” Mahatma Gandhi

We now live in a world where complete honesty is accepted as not really possible in today’s society but in so doing we have lost something of ourselves and our own lives and those in society as a whole are poorer for it. When we are dishonest with others, we are being dishonest with ourselves and it is a betrayal of self.

“Trust is not bound up with knowledge so much as it is with freedom, the openness to the unknown.” Robert C. Solomon

When we seek to live with honesty in all aspects of our lives we need to be proactive and face up to different challenges along the way concerning how we speak, act or live our lives and not seek to avoid the truth because of discomfort or fear or the effort of having to change.

When we learn to put aside our egos we are free to develop compassion towards others.

“There is definitely openness to others' suffering that is dealt not with distress but with compassion.” Matthieu Ricard

What are the benefits of openness?

“What kills a soul?

Exhaustion, secret keeping

image management.

And what brings a soul

back from the dead?

Honesty, connection, grace”

Shauna Niequist

Our character is built upon our habits and our values are reflected in, and informed by, our choices.

“Openness, respect, integrity - these are principles that need to underpin pretty much every other decision that you make.” Justin Trudeau

In order to know ourselves and to act with integrity it is important to nurture our souls by spending regular quiet and quality time just accommodating and assimilating everything the world throws at us so we are more in tune with ourselves when we need to dig deep and draw upon our reserves.

“Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.” Rainer Maria Rilke

Practising openness brings us more opportunities for joy and happiness

Joy and openness come from our own contented heart.” Gautama Buddha

Openness nourishes our creative spirit

“Creativity has always depended on openness and flexibility, so let us hope for more of both in the future.” Siri Hustvedt

When we are open we are able to make and maintain better social connections

“What the world needs most is openness: Open hearts, open doors, open eyes, open minds, open ears, open souls.” Robert Muller

We learn to acknowledge and accept different perspectives on life

“Tolerance, openness and understanding towards other peoples' cultures, social structures, values and faiths are now essential to the very survival of an interdependent world.”

Aga Khan IV

Is openness and advantage or an additional challenge?

Openness is often viewed as a positive trait. From the point of view of the person who is open, it means e.g. not having to remember what you have said to one person and not to another and there is a quiet inner confidence where you are comfortable to be yourself regardless of the reaction of others.

We also like people who are straightforward and we feel that we can trust, but with openness we still need to have wisdom and at times it is necessary to set boundaries or limit potential risky behaviours incited by curiosity and novelty seeking.

Open people have a higher level of intrinsic motivation to pursue knowledge for its own sake. They are curious about the world and want to learn more about how it works. They are also eager to try new things, so they may be better able to adapt and thrive when faced with changes in their environment, situation, or relationships.

How can we increase our openness?

“First we must see that we cannot will ourselves to be open because openness is our very nature. Any tiny residue of willing, of wanting to be open takes us away from what we are. Willing never goes beyond willing. So the only way to be free from this circle is to glimpse the truth that openness is the egoless state, that it is here and now.” Jean Klein

I think that mindfulness, whatever form that takes for you, helps one be more open to oneself and new experiences and different people.

“Trust, love, what we call sexy, who we trust in a business situation, are all based on how open we are. Openness is bodily openness, muscular relaxation, heart openness as opposed to hiding behind some emotional wall, and spiritual openness, which is actually feeling so fully into the moment that there's no separation between you and the entire moment.” David Deida

Openness involves acceptance – about ourselves and others

“Openness is also an acceptance that just as you have the inherent right to create your life as you see fit, so others have the same right with their own lives, even if their design differs from yours greatly.” Stephen Richards

A final thought

“There's no such thing as an absolute openness. Openness is relative, I think, in all societies.” Peter Eisenman

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