Minds are Like Parachutes

James Dewar, Scottish chemist and physicist, said “Minds are like parachutes – they work best when open.” What are you doing to keep your mind open at the moment? What have you heard, seen or read recently that has challenged you? How have you changed?

What got me thinking on this is that I have just read the feedback from our recent major conference in London [see audio, video and slides from the event]. Many of the comments related to the fact that it was very busy – and whilst it is great to see so many people at an event like this, please rest assured that we have taken on board comments about venue capacity, registration and timetabling for future events. However, what I wanted to write about was the comments on the actual session content.

I am pleased to say that most of it was positive but some of it was not. I am always glad to have a range of feedback as it helps us improve, but I was also interested in what was going on in the minds of the people who wrote it and what was happening in my mind.

I was giving the opening keynote address for the conference, and so my goal was to set the tone for the day and to get people thinking. As such, I wasn’t about to give an easy message that would have people purring like cats and tell them what they already knew – the stigma of mental health problems in the church is too important a topic for us to spend the day feeling good about ourselves. Hence, I deliberately pushed the boat on a number of issues and did not repeat the party line. I agreed with a number of key concepts we all hold dear, but spent most of the time looking critically a the consequences of uncritically accepting them. Also, though most of my talk was written down word for word [you can read the transcript!], I also made a number of off the cuff remarks that weren’t scripted and so may have landed more randomly.

Some people said they did not agree with me, and I was tempted not to agree with their feedback. Listening to things we do not agree with is can be hard and there are a number of responses – to ignore and walk away, to get angry and shout back, to feel got at and become withdrawn – or to listen and engage. Only in the last response is there the possibility of change. Engaging allows the person speaking to consider what was said and make any needed changes for the future – thank you to those of you who made constructive comments on my talk in your feedback. Engaging also allows the person to learn things THEY may need to learn and change any opinions that need changing. I was actually intending to be provocative – it was the opening keynote after all. And whilst I struggled to say what I had to say in a way that would be gracious [I am very aware of James 3], when you get the best of me you also get the worst of me!

But the material is out there and it is now up for us to reflect and for the Holy Spirit to use the material as He will. For now, however, I am content that whatever came out of my mouth can be used for both good and evil – depending on the open or closed nature of the minds that receive it. And I will try in turn to be open minded to the feedback.

With God’s Grace, we will improve our conferences over time, but there are always things we can learn when we encounter things we do not like as well. And I would argue that with an open mind you could learn more from tension and dissonance than you can from encountering that which you already know to be true. So we should welcome different points of view. I hope I do.
Rob Waller, 25/04/2010
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