Have you ever wondered why Oprah is so rich and successful? Oprah Winfrey is known around the world as a thought leader and brilliant entrepreneur who overcome incredible personal challenges to not only rise to the top of her career field, but to break through barriers and create new definitions of success. The catalyst for her enormous success was her talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” in which she interviewed thousands of ordinary people and extraordinary leaders alike.
She hosted a talk show, not a reality show. She wasn’t followed around 24/7 by cameras. We didn’t watch her brush her teeth or dance at nightclubs. She wasn’t the star of her show at all. She helped other people shine. She encouraged people she agreed with, and she also confronted those that challenged her. She let American see different sides of issues we weren’t aware of. She helped bridge divides we may not have even known existed. She did it not by standing on a soapbox and telling us things, but rather by asking questions. Millions and millions of questions. She opened her stage and her mind to opinions that she may not have personally agreed with every single day, and then she probed, and listened, and learned. And so did America. In return, she became one of the richest and most well-known women in the world.
Is Oprah successful because she is open-minded? Is the true foundation of her success her ability to listen, rather than her ability to talk?
We often think that steadfast adherences to ones’ principles is a cornerstone of success. We see stubborn resolve as the mark of strong character. This can translate into an understanding that sticking to one’s opinion is paramount to achieving one’s goals in life. The message that comes through is someone must stand firm on their opinions in order to get what they want. Yet, this line of thinking leaves little if no room for growth and learning.
We have many derogatory words and phrases for people who are open-minded. We call them “loosey-goosey” and call them weak. We question their principles and label them as hypocrites, or wimps. On the other hand, we bestow favor on those with closed minds. We call them strong, tenacious and independent. We label them “leaders” and “winners.” It’s no wonder that people may be hesitant to listen to someone that they disagree with, let alone change their mind on any given subject. No one wants the stigma of being a hypocrite. Yet, if we refuse to consider another person’s opinion, is growth even possible? If we can’t listen to each other, how can we learn?
Dr. Wayne Dyer often advised, “Have a mind open to everything and attached to nothing.” This statement speaks to the profound need for curious and questioning minds to grow and evolve on our personal paths. Undoubtedly, Americans value curiosity and innovation. Without question, to enact profound change in the world it is often necessary to “go boldly where no man has gone before.” Yet, we ordinary humans are often so attached to the way that things have always been done, and so worried about our personal images and what others will think of us, that we can hardly claim our minds are open at all. Does this adherence to our so-called principles and values hinder our growth not only as individuals, but as a society?
We can look at nature for the perfect example of the value of flexibility. The mighty water oak is a tree with strong, obstinate roots and big, bountiful branches, yet it is more likely to be damaged by hurricane force winds than the Mongolia myrtle tree with its feathery, flexible limbs. We, too, have a greater likelihood of survival if we are willing to bend at times. Our flexibility and open-mindedness may make all the difference in the world.
I like to talk. I talk a lot. I can talk about paperclips for hours (seriously, ask Lancelot). I think aloud, which helps me form my opinions about things. Yet, too often my babbling serves entirely no purpose at all. I get sick of the sound of my own voice, and I’m sure others do as well. It may be that my incessant chatter is affecting my own growth, and it may be time for me to close my mouth and open my ears.
We were born with two ears and one mouth, yet so many of talk far more than we listen. Instead of stubbornly resolving to stand up for my principles, I now resolve to be more open-minded. That starts with talking less and listening more.
Maybe listening more will turn out to be the key to my own success.