What I learned about openness from a stranger

(photo by Bealuz Villavicencio)

Earlier today, a friend who’s been living in Seoul for over two years now shared a random experience that surprised and delighted her.

She told me that she stopped by a playground to relax. As she was sitting idly on a bench, an ahjussi who was passing by stopped and just stood there staring at her. She said that the ahjussi didn’t look like a pervert so she felt no fear.

To my friend’s utter surprise, the ahjussi told her that he thought she was an actress because she looked quite elegant sitting there. And just like that, a random encounter at a playground turned the ordinary into a delightful day.

I was struck by the openness and authenticity of the ahjussi. I could imagine the scene as well as the conversation that played out. I told my friend that I love the ahjussi for doing what he did. I admire his openness in expressing his thoughts uncaring of how such behavior will be viewed by a stranger, a woman sitting alone on a bench in a playground. It’s the kind of openness that I don’t see much of everyday.

And she knew what I meant because in many ways, we seem to view things from shared, connecting, or intersecting perspectives.

Today, a man who was a stranger to us reinforced our belief about how openness can be a beautiful thing. That it’s okay not to worry about saying what we think for fear of being misunderstood. That thoughts are powerful when put into words. That we can possibly touch someone’s life by simply being who we are.

Openness, for me, is that innate childlike quality of embracing life at its fullest. It’s about the harmony of heart and mind where thoughts are acted upon without fear of judgments. It’s not shying away from experiences that may or may not be painful. It’s about the endearing innocence behind openly expressing feelings simply because they need to be said.

It’s remarkable to meet people who exude the quality of openness I rarely see. Maybe we’ve been hurt so much by previous encounters that we gradually learn to create walls that are difficult to breach. Maybe we’re just too busy living our own lives we seldom find time to truly see what’s in front of us.

Wikipedia has an interesting entry about openness to experience that I came across just now. I find it a very worthwhile read.

Openness to experience is one of the domains which are used to describe human personality in the Five Factor Model[1][2] Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.[3] A great deal of psychometric research has demonstrated that these qualities are statistically correlated. Thus, openness can be viewed as a global personality trait consisting of a set of specific traits, habits, and tendencies that cluster together.

Openness tends to be normally distributed with a small number of individuals scoring extremely high or low on the trait, and most people scoring moderately.[citation needed] People who score low on openness are considered to be closed to experience. They tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behavior. They prefer familiar routines to new experiences, and generally have a narrower range of interests. People high in openness tend to have more liberal political views, whereas those who are low in openness tend to be more conservative, and are more likely to endorse authoritarian, ethnocentric and prejudiced views.

Openness has moderate positive relationships with creativity, intelligence and knowledge. Openness is related to the psychological trait of absorption, and like absorption has a modest relationship to individual differences in hypnotic susceptibility. (Read more here.)

I think I need more openness in me and around me.

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