5 Books That Will Open Up Your Mind

How to challenge your beliefs

Photo: Karolina K/Kaboom Pics

I remember sitting in my Atlanta Airbnb watching the 2020 presidential election unfold and was dumbfounded by the results. I had concocted this story in my find of a landslide victory for Joe Biden. It seemed impossible that an outwardly racist candidate could possibly win another election. While I and half the country were pleased with the results, a harsh reality is that 74 million people were disappointed.

We naturally surround ourselves with like minded people, and the reality is that there are various perspectives we are never subjected to — or frankly even open to. If we do not actively seek out varying perspectives we will get caught in this hamster wheel of perpetuating beliefs. We have all seen this play out in many forms. The engrained belief that a meat protein must be the staple on our plates for a healthy diet, the company that deems being aggressive as a key leadership characteristic, the archaic view that without sleepless nights and ramen noodles you will not be a successful entrepreneur, the fallacy that gender inequality no longer exists, the false assumption that someone cannot be racist because they have a black friend, and the generalized belief that the hateful deep rooted beliefs of a white supremacist can never be changed.

False beliefs may be harmless, but in other cases they prove to be destructive. Opening up your mind allows you to see varying views and to better approach situations with an objective frame of mind.

Simple and direct, the novel begins with this “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” I originally approached his learnings with my guard up and thought, great — another person telling me to be vegan. I love pizza and steak too much to proceed with this.

My point of view post however was different. No I did not decide to be vegan, but the foods I now include and exclude have shifted. Pollen does a great job going into the introduction of the Western diet which was initially a symbol of socioeconomic status and evolved to be more mainstream. With this diet came refined carbs and erroneous marketing around limiting fat in achieving a well-rounded diet. He highlights learnings from the Japanese in eating until you’re “80% full”, and how the French watch their weight through portion control. Pollen tackles the common misbelief that processed foods with labels boasting about vitamin and mineral content can be as healthy as the raw version. He discussed the importance of the soil in which our fruits and vegetables are grown, and admittedly shares flaws in “certified organic” labelling system.

2. Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You by Francis Frei & Anne Morriss

Leadership and empathy?! Must be an oxymoron.

My mind really opened up here in the most pleasant of ways. This book is refreshing and shows that being a human is tied to being a successful leader.

Francis and Anne discuss the three wobbles in maintaining trust: empathy, logic, and authenticity. Prior to reading this book, I read a summary and admittedly rolled my eyes at the thought of authenticity. It is tough to be authentic when you are a women POC surrounded by homogenous men. Well, after reading more about Francis Frei — let’s just say she’s a badass successful leader who was hired by Uber to fix a broken culture and co-wrote this book with her wife Anne Morriss. So yes, let us now talk about authenticity with an open mind.

This book highlights that leadership is not about you — it’s about everyone else. It discusses the various ways we can show up at work and foster an environment conducive to supporting and empowering our teams.

3. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

I’m a sucker for data, and this novel is full of it. It’s a man’s world — well this book takes this statement to another level.

Caroline discusses the fact that the transportation infrastructure in the US was built to take men from their homes to the office with little regard for women and their historically speaking route to grocery stores and other errands. She discusses the scarce availability of restrooms in India and how it links to sexual harassment in using these facilities at night. She reviews resources available to the medical community and details how its written to treat white men as oppose to understanding the biological differences in diagnosing others such as women and Asians. Until we understand the extent in which gender inequality is engrained in our society, it cannot be highlighted and addressed.

4. How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

A discussion about racism is not complete without Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi opened up my mind to both the definition and importance of being anti-racist. The injustice of black people in this country is deplorable and without anti-racism action we cannot dismantle it.

Kendi takes you on a journey as he discusses systemic racism and his experiences within it. He discusses the generalization of the negative aspects of a black society while highlighting the positive aspects of white society. What I found most captivating was his vulnerability as he divulges how he dealt with his own biases towards people of color. He explained there is no such thing as “not racist”. We are either perpetuating injustice or are dismantling it.

Kendi’s unwavering commitment anti-racism has motivated me to challenge my own belifefs. As a young and naive child, I am embarrassed to say that I once believed that having fair skin and limiting my time in the sun would enhance my beauty. Multi-million dollar industries around lightening creams and fair Bollywood actresses have perpetuated this. While growing up in North America has opened up my mind to the absurdity of this belief, Kendi has helped me realize my role in dismantling this dichotomy.

5. Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Supremacist by Eli Saslow

I had seen an interview for this novel on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah and was immediately intrigued. Centered around the godson of a former KKK Grand Wizard and avowed White Nationalist, this story details what most would consider the “impossible” transformation of beliefs.

I flew threw this novel marveled by the willpower of a select group of New College students that set aside their personal opinions with the core objective of getting through to a man with destructive views. This novel also opened up my mind to “the man on the other side”. The finesse of Derek as he intellectually rationalized his views and was respected even by those that did not agree with him was intriguing. I had once assumed those with destructive views similar to Derek were unintelligent and ignorant and this novel forced me to question my own beliefs.

While I will not spoil details of the transition, I will say that this novel has verbalized my inherent belief that believing something cannot be wrong if it does not hurt others.

Challenging our beliefs is tough. It’s uncomfortable and forces introspection as you re-evaluate your thought process and inherent biases. At the same time it is refreshing and by opening up your mind you can set aside emotions and objectively understand different points of view.

Sparking debates and listening intently

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store