Impossible without criticism – Openness

Utopians dream of an open society

What is that – openness?

We demand openness for many areas of our life: among partners, friends, for corporate structures and as mediators between cultures and peoples.

In the social sciences, the “exploratory research approach” – the so-called “exploratory studies” – has been used for a long time. Here the researcher should approach his or her object of research without prejudice – easier said than done. Because which scientist is free of prejudice?

Which social scientist, for example, could conduct an unbiased interview in the high-security wing of a prison?

The principle of “openness” has been driven by digitisation

We probably experienced the most revolutionary opening with social media. What was always private – is now public: Today personal thoughts, films, recordings and pictures are shared with a large number of – and sometimes foreign – people.

Digitisation has also brought about openness in research – with the concept of Open Innovation, a research project that expressly wishes the participation of many researchers around the world.

Many start-ups work in an open work environment, in so-called co-working areas – and teams and office space of large corporations are already bowing to the trend towards openness. With the term “openness” there is always a hint of “remedy”.

Openness is complex

However, openness is not the solution to every problem at any given time.

You cannot put openness over a topic like a template and label it as “solved”. Opening up brings new questions and often conflicts.

This can be illustrated particularly well in the relationship between two people. For here great openness – that is, honesty – is not necessarily a peacemaker.

When one partner relentlessly tells the other the truth, it is sometimes the beginning of a conflict. Imagine sentences like: “You are not as slim as you used to be. You have grown old” before.

In the worst case, openness means offending, in the best case, priorities are clarified.

Openness can hurt and make vulnerable

Anyone who opens up makes himself vulnerable. In order to keep the potential damage low, the risks are therefore weighed up in advance. Does my openness hurt another person or do I become vulnerable?

A risk assessment is initially more reminiscent of mistrust – which contradicts the principle of openness, at least at first glance.

Liberating distrust

So part of the opening is mistrust, even if it seems paradoxical. Openness includes one’s own opinion – even more – it requires the willingness to examine and revise one’s own judgements.

A review of judgments – of one’s own and other people’s – requires critical consideration. A distrustful look – inwards and outwards – is part of the process of opening and not its opposite.

Openness is a willingness to take risks

There is hardly a more complicated undertaking than to check your own prejudices for correctness. For this we must free ourselves from old habits. We must make new judgments and let go of old ones.

Passing a judgement means formulating a new valid law. To make this possible, we must constantly question ourselves.

The zeitgeist of openness demands that we persistently question ourselves, other people, things, habits and much more.

At the same time, the same spirit of the times demands a new mindfulness from us. To recognize the beauty of everything and everyone: That of life, of diversity, of ourselves, of our surroundings – yes, of everything that is.

Questioning the same thing and recognizing beauty at the same time – that almost sounds like a mission that cannot be fulfilled.

Prejudices protect us

We need advantages. They keep us from making mistakes over and over again. They structure our world. Which one we should keep, we have to find out.

Not all prejudices are as simple as the one that a stove is hot. Many times we have to accept that we will again – metaphorically speaking – “burn our fingers”.

An open society must live with this risk. At least if openness is not just a catchphrase or a simple acceptance of what is foreign or its idealization.

The demand for openness defines the other

The moment we demand to open up, we already draw the line between the familiar and the foreign. We call a spade a spade: Foreign – with this we name the person, the persons, the thing or the thing to which it is necessary to open up.

A shrugging acceptance is not openness, because it is the opposite of indifference – it is the willingness to try something new. Openness is critical observation and sympathy at the same time. It is the discovery of differences and similarities.

Openness is the beginning, not the end of the common history

It is not easy to establish a culture of openness, whether in partnership, corporate structures, politics or cultural areas. Openness demands a lot of work from us – especially from ourselves. It requires us to form our own opinion – even if it does not please others.

The prospect of a diverse community

On closer inspection, openness implies the right to decide for or against something after a review of one’s own values – to form a new and appropriate judgement. Or also – to uphold an old judgement.

Ideally, we have a culture in which views can be discussed. Criticism brings us into conversation – and a conversation is usually the beginning of a friendship.

Enjoying other lifestyles and views – having fun looking at them and also being allowed to question them – that is openness.

Whoever discusses differences can discover a lot of common ground. Openness is not synonymous with peaceful diversity. It is rather a tool on the way there. We have the tools – let’s use them!

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