I’ve been enjoying reading a fine book by Alan Jacobs, a professor in the Honors Program at Baylor University. When I tell you the title of the book, you’ll likely smile and tell me that, obviously, I read it none too soon. It’s titled How to Think.
If you just peruse our social landscape very briefly, you’ll certainly recognize the need for better thinking. Often any attempt at cogent thought at all in the midst of our culture’s loud battles would be welcome. In a day when a deep fear of genuine freedom of speech is gripping many university campuses so tightly that they feel a need to establish “safe zones” for students apparently traumatized by the outcome of elections or diverse opinions, Professor Jacobs opts for teaching students (and others who will listen) to think more clearly rather than to run from facing reality at all.
I’m planning to read the whole not-very-long book, but, after reading the first chapter or two, I cheated and flipped over to the last one, “The Thinking Person’s Checklist.” Jacobs gives twelve great points there, ending with “Be brave.” Thinking requires courage, mostly because the loudest folks around us don’t do much of it. I’ll just mention here a few of his other points.
First, he says that “when faced with the provocation to respond to what someone has said, give it five minutes.” He suggests taking a walk or pulling some weeds. I think he’s recommending using that five minutes not to think much at all; better thinking will be more likely to occur after a break, and it will stand a better chance of being actual thinking, not just reacting.
Need I mention that this is particularly important with regard to social media? Off-the-cuff fly-off-the-handle flaming Facebook posts or middle of the night tweets or texts are rarely ever the fruit of much thought. If the tweeter talks like a twit, walks like a twit, and tweets like a twit, it’s probably a twit, and a twit’s lack of impulse control is rarely improved by sleep deprivation.
Along that same line, Jacobs also advises, “As best you can, online and off, avoid the people who fan flames.” Yes, and don’t be one! “Remember,” Jacobs writes, “that you don’t have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness.”
Might I suggest that, before firing of a fiery Facebook post or a bird-brained tweet, it might be good to run it by a mature 8-11 year old? Their hormones haven’t kicked in yet and they usually have a pretty clear idea of what is fair, what is mean, and what is crazy. If you’re particularly courageous, you might even give them the power to curtail your Facebook or Twitter privileges if they determine that you can’t behave.
Professor Jacobs would agree that St. James was thinking very well indeed when he counseled, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (1:19). Yes, but that will require more thought and more courage than we might at first think.
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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.