The concept of "openness" is derived from general systems theory; human beings and other organisms are referred to as "open systems." An open system is receptive and actively responsive to information in an undistorted manner.
This is what we do at Healthful Living – take in information about the nature of our world, and actively make use of it – in our case, for the shared purpose of nurturing all life. Openness, like many human constructs, is learned. We typically need to in some way overcome the tendency of our world to close us up, to keep us contained through patterns of negative messages and reinforcements. With fear perpetuated around us, it's understandable that people need to protect themselves from pain. Openness implies risk…of pain, of being hurt. But we all learn through our life experiences, that risk also equals learning and growth – learning and growth that we would not forsake for concern of associated pain. But how do we learn to be open?
Openness can be nurtured gently through time, it can stem from “life changing” experiences. Either way, our openness in life greatly affects our overall health and well being through the Healthful Living Model. As this website develops, we'll present further articles, links, and suggestions for further exploration of the construct of openness. To introduce the topic of openness, we present Martin's personal paper on the subject, reflecting his personal curiosities on his own journey to openness.
Openness: A way of being
I find it wonderfully interesting to explore myself. Nowhere else can I find such a never ending source of enlightenment. There are those who choose not to look inward unto the mystery of themselves, for searching their own soul serve only to further complicate an already complex and confusing life. They focus only on better understanding the outer world in order to make sense and bring certainty to the chaos of life. I believe though, that we must truly be in touch with ourselves first. Once we are open and accepting of ourselves, then our perception of the world becomes more real, and life itself, a much more pleasurable experience.
I have been riding a high in my life and see no reason to come down from it. When I say a "high," I do not mean to imply unrealistic enthusiasm. What I mean is that I have become comfortable with who I am and what I am doing (with this life). I believe in something that I call "perpetual happiness" which stems from my developed personality, who I am, and how I explain the world to myself. I feel a strong sense of meaning, a commitment to positiveness, learning, growing, understanding. The heart of the matter is that I am a very open person. It is my openness that has allowed me to absorb all that I have and become who I have become. It is with respect to this construct of openness that I excel and as a result I grow tremendously as an individual.
How it shows up
My openness is prevalent in my communication skills. I am very friendly and find it easy to meet people. My experience has been that people feel comfortable with me and are able to show who they are rather quickly, without the need to present an initial "glossed up" image of themselves. It is I, with my approach that help bring this "realness" out of other people. I enjoy and am stimulated by genuine communication, and in myself I promote this. I simply avoid the things that interfere with the process, traits that contrast openness. Prejudice, stereotyping, shyness, having any sort of visible attitude, or just being a poor listener are a few things that confound communication.
I approach new people with a two-way open book mentality, extremely non- intimidating. "I do not know who you are until you show me." We are all human beings, no one is inherently superior or inferior to anyone else. Therefore I shall not feel that I have to speak down to a 5th grader, nor should I have to speak (or look) up to the governor. Break down the barriers, I believe. I am honest and genuine; it's not difficult, I'm just being me. This genuineness is contagious in that others become as real with me as I am with them. It is a win-win situation and both people learn something from one another. I strongly believe that I have something to give to and learn from everyone that I meet.
Learn I do, from everything. My personal learning style emphasizes concrete experience – I am an experientialist. My openness and its related curiosity, have afforded me tremendous "hands on" opportunities from which to enhance my view of the world. New experiences can only lead to learning something new, hence more and more knowledge and wisdom. I have a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to all that surrounds me, I see things for what they are and people for who they are. I am interested in sharing what I have learned and learning what you have to share. Life is a continual learning process, I enjoy experiencing it all.
My father was a strong influence on my openness. He would encourage me in whatever I wanted to achieve. As a child when I would ask him "do you think I can...?" over and over again his attitude was "I don't see why not." Looking back I realize what powerful words those were to me and how much the meaning behind them was born into my personality and approach to life today. Those words told me that there was nothing holding me back from giving something a try, I'm not even sure that he was aware of the confidence that he instilled in me. He had me look at fear and realize how silly it was sometimes.
Fear inhibits openness
When I was seven years old I would not jump off the diving board (into the swimming pool) to my father waiting for me. I was afraid. Very simply, he helped me look at what the fear was, what could happen that would be bad? When I could see this (nothing bad) compared to how much fun it would be to jump (everyone else was having fun!), I realized that my fear was a false one. I jumped. This was a powerful lesson for me. Fear inhibits action all the time, but so often the fears are phony. Because we don't face them, we do not realize that they are unfounded. I learned at a young age to take in all the information you can about something before you take action or are influenced by others. And, after you jump into a few situations and see that the fears that almost stopped you were false and that the experience you had was a positive one, you tend to favor the idea of having the experience in light of the fear.
Meeting people, especially woman, is a prime example. To walk up to a woman and say "hello" evokes the fear of rejection, okay. But if we say "hello" anyway (with relative openness) we may find that our fear was an exaggerated one. Today, I have little fear of the unknown. I am open to check things out, experience, learn. I realize that only with the unknown will I grow and gain more knowledge, playing it safe with the known does not afford me this benefit.
Something else, which has contributed to increasing my openness and awareness in the world, has been travel. I have spent over four years outside of the U.S., experiencing many other cultures, lands, people. I have literally traveled around the world, backpacking through Egypt, East Africa, India and all throughout South-East Asia. In addition, I have spent extended periods of time "living" in Israel (9 months) as well as Australia (1 year), and Japan (1.5 years). Traveling and experiencing a lot of what the world has to offer certainly has an affect on a person. For me it has enhanced my knowledge infinitely, bringing me in touch with the diversity of the world as well as the realization that we are all one and the same. Our cultures may differ but we are all human beings sharing the same planet. Seeing other places helps me to comprehend and appreciate my own place with greater awareness. I have gained an appreciation for everything for what it is. No one land or people are better than any other. I have achieved a wonderful love of life and what it has to offer.
Openness and Self-Actualization
Abraham Maslow's concept of self-actualization has always intrigued me, I have asked myself "is this what I'm shooting for?" When I was out traveling and completely free and at peace in the world there were many powerful moments when I thought to myself "hey, this is it!!!" I am realizing now that although these experiences are meaningful they serve more to shape and define who I am, rather than to pose as steps toward achieving something called self-actualization.
Maslow defined self-actualization as "the full use and exploitation of one's talents, capacities, potentialities, etc." If this were true, then anyone who is performing to the best of their ability could be considered self-actualizing. However, Maslow also states that self-actualization does not occur in young people – so his statement is somewhat flawed.
Psychologist Willard Mittleman offers a wonderful reinterpretation of Maslow (Mittelman, Willard. (1991). Maslow's study of self-actualization: A reinterpretation. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 31 (1) , pp. 114- 135.). Mittelman proposes that the individuals that Maslow studied were not different or "special" because they were self-actualizing, but rather by that fact that they were very open.
Mittelman provides a detailed description of the traits of people who are open. To a greater degree than is ordinary, open people are both receptive and responsive to information from the world (and from themselves). Receptiveness to information means not only seeing things clearly, but having a genuine interest, respect and appreciation of the world. One crucial trait is the ability to view uncomfortable facts and problems free of distortion by wishes, fears, past experiences, or prejudices. Open people are able to view new situations independently.
Mittelman explains how these traits “show up” in an open person's personality. He mentions creativeness and non-conventionalism as commonplace. Open people tend to seek out and absorb a wide range of information, encouraging creativity (versus going with the flow). They face discrepancies squarely and try to make sense of them, using analogies and connections to arrive at a better understanding of the world. To open people, that which is unknown or unclear is a source of wonder and curiosity rather than a source of fear and anxiety. This tendency to enjoy, rather than be frightened by, the unknown means that very open people have "more comfortable relations" with reality than the average person.
The average person is not very open. According to Mittleman, there is no "instinctoid" tendency toward greater openness. He agrees with Maslow that the lower needs (food, shelter, security) are innate, but it is far from clear than humans have an instinctoid tendency to achieve self-actualization (become very open). Openness, he feels, can come as a result of various environmental and educational conditions. Satisfying the lower needs in Maslow's hierarchy is certainly a start. It can begin in childhood; exposed children to a variety of viewpoints and perspectives in a non-judgmental manner thus encouraging their own thought process, as well as simply exposing them to very open individuals to see how their openness can lead to new insights and help resolve conflicts. In my childhood, I was continuously exposed to older people and more mature thinking. Positive life experiences also encourage openness. In my case, traveling around the world and realizing a dream or two along the way has accelerated my openness.
Here are three reasons why we should foster openness. First, our psychological health – learning to accept ourselves and becoming relatively free of guilt, shame, frustration, and anxiety. Second, the benefit of its potential impact on society and the world as a whole is tremendous. With the many conflicts, problems and tensions that face the world today we need individuals who can see them clearly and respond to them creatively. The closed-minded self-interest manner of leadership has been historically non-beneficial to our collective human experiment. Finally, the more open one is to the world and to others, the more alive one is to one's surroundings, and so the richer and fuller is one's experience of life.
This is why we are committed to openness, committed to healthful living.
In life we must often relate to people far less open than ourselves, though this needn't affect our own openness. If we are each honest with ourselves and others, we cannot go wrong. In being open, we become vulnerable and susceptible to hurt. But we learn that we would rather be open and experience all of the happiness and accept the occasional hurt, rather than play it safe and miss out on so much that life has to offer. This is what works for us at Healthful Living. We are learners and teachers in this life, seekers of knowledge, wisdom, and spreaders of joy. We enjoy living.