One of the attributes about my millennial friend Jonathan is his open-mindedness. Much of his quality might be due to his age being much closer to the teens than mine is. The nature of teens and some 20-somethings is they are still in their exploratory years. They observe and try different, sometimes outrageous things. Young people like Jonathan are curious about intense experiences and unconventional ideas.
Jonathan and his other friends have less fear about talking about fear, death, sexuality, and love. Teens and millennials tend to be unafraid of exploring philosophical terrain, questioning social norms, and confronting authority.
Having a much younger friend helps me think outside of the box. We are not in a mentor-protégé relationship. We view each other as equals. There is no hierarchy in our friendship. He stretches my mind; I hope I stretch his. When he catches me expressing a stodgy opinion, Jonathan calls me out about it. Then we discuss the opinion’s merits and demerits. When he expresses a less than open-minded statement, I bring it to his attention and we’ll explore his point of view, too.
I am careful not to idealize youth too much, because a large share of teens and 20-somethings have already begun the process of closing their minds. People in that stage of life are going through the dramatic shift from adolescence to adulthood. They are easy prey to dogmatism and rigid belief systems. They may awaken from that state of mind or remain rooted in it for life. Time and experience will tell.
People of that age group are still doing some major growing up. In doing so, they sometimes wildly switch from exuberant open-mindedness to the dogmatism of rigid thinking. They’re exploring the frontiers of thought. They begin to develop some wisdom by retaining their open-mindedness but tempering it with the need for self-preservation. Ideally, the later teens and the 20s still allow for curiosity and the desire to honestly investigate without bowing to commands for blind obedience and belief.
There are many views about what open-mindedness means. I try not to fall into the trap of restriction and closed-mindedness about uncomfortable categories. Jonathan has helped me to retain the attitude of being a student. There is plenty of learning to do each day. There is a lot of questioning that needs to be done. There are still many boxes from which to escape. There is still much territory to explore regarding life and love.