Tag Archives: thinking

“How to Think” Is Worth Some Thought

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.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

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.

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Thinking About Thinking Can Be Difficult

I’ve been trying to do some thinking—which is harder than I thought. I’ve tried it a few times before, but what’s made this latest attempt particularly difficult is that I’ve been trying to think about thinking.

This is Alan Jacobs’ fault. A Baylor University professor, Dr. Jacobs has recently written a book entitled How To Think. I figured he wrote it because as a college professor grading thousands of student papers, he sees firsthand how rare it is for real thinking to occur. But a better clue to the book’s purpose is its subtitle: “A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.”

You don’t have to think about it much to realize that lots of us don’t think much. But almost all of us think that folks who disagree with us socially, politically, religiously, etc., are folks who don’t think much at all—or at least not very well. It turns out that we have more in common with those folks than we think: none of us think enough about trying to recognize even the iceberg’s tip of the biases we all bring with us to our own thinking.

Jacobs has a name, by the way, for “those folks.” He calls them “repugnant cultural others” or RCOs, for short. We all have RCOs, and we all are RCOs for somebody else.

Here’s the rub. We don’t like those “other” folks. We actually do find them pretty repugnant. It doesn’t take long to think about the way hard-line Republicans feel about dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, for example. Then pick out any of a jillion other groups or issues and, well, there you have it.

We don’t understand those folks; we don’t like those people. We don’t plan to understand those folks; we don’t plan to like those people. Which means we almost always succeed in our plan. This all means, of course, that we don’t know each other, and we don’t intend to. Knowing each other just a little, we might like each other even less, but . . . well, we might be surprised to find that we actually do share a few likes/dislikes. Chocolate, or something.

Sadly, disastrously for any kind of dialogue, we listen to social or other foes for about two seconds before in our social media-ravaged minds, we hit Like or Dislike and start mentally (or actually) tweeting. Jacobs recommends that we listen to each other for a few minutes, all the while being vigilantly on our guard lest we immediately enter “Refutation Mode.” That’s when we quit listening and start formulating our own arguments. Then he suggests waiting for almost an eternity—five minutes (twenty-four hours is better)—before beginning an assessment of the other person’s opinion.

By the way, true and false are real deals. Some other folks’ convictions really are grounded in truth; some are truly false. Yes, and the same is true in the mirror. But we’ll come a lot closer to learning something when we realize that we all have a lot to learn—particularly from folks we’d love to never listen to.

If we don’t think we have any biases that at times foul up our own thinking, Jacobs suggests a quick perusal of a Wikipedia article, “List of Cognitive Biases.” It is, as he warns, depressing to see how seriously affected our thinking is by biases that have almost nothing to do with the issue at hand. Oh, we still may be correct on the issue. But being aware of our tendency to be biased can produce a couple of real blessings: better thinking and deepening humility. Both make for fewer rifts and better relationships.

Hmm. It seems that I remember Jesus telling us to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. And didn’t St. James say something about being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (1:19)? I’m thinking that’s wise counsel.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

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.


Thanksgiving: A Time for Giving Thought to Gratitude

“The worst moment for an atheist,” writes G. K. Chesterton, “is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude and has no one to thank.”

Though any season is a great time for gratitude, Thanksgiving certainly lends itself at least to some thinking about the subject whether we’re believers, agnostics, atheists, or anything-else-ists.

Even an unusually intelligent golden retriever might do well to ponder on Thanksgiving morning the fact that somebody makes sure that food shows up in his bowl and water in his dish (and, well, for goodness’ sakes, what a nice meaty bone! Wonder what’s the occasion? Woof!). At least a little wag of the tail might be in order, I’d think, and I’m betting it would be more than a little one, since dogs seem to know instinctively that tail wags and gratitude are not items they need to hoard lest they run short.

More than “man’s best friend,” humans have, it seems to me, both a higher responsibility to think and to thank, and a much more serious temptation not to.

I’m told that the word “thank” comes from an older word related to “think.” And, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “thank” is “related phonetically to ‘think’ as ‘song’ is to ‘sing.’” So it would seem that even a very little thinking on our part would issue in “a profound sense of gratitude” and a great deal of thanksgiving. Our hearts really do have a song they should be singing, a song of thanksgiving! “Count Your Many Blessings” was a far better song title than “Think and You’ll Be Thanking,” but it really does come to the same thing.

What’s ironic here, and worth noting, is that those of us who seem to have the biggest boatload of blessings are often the very folks who are least likely to be genuinely thankful. Our “thanking” often suffers because our thinking is snotty, shoddy, and fatally flawed.

We tend to think that anyone else who has worked as hard as we have would naturally have as many blessings as we do.

We tend to think that anyone with a corresponding level of intelligence could certainly have made the same sorts of wise or profitable life or business decisions we’ve made.

We tend to think, though I hope we’d not say it, that we’re a “cut above” average and thus more deserving than others. When we say “blessings,” we mean something more akin to “wages, benefits, or dividends.”

We tend to forget how much we have that no one can possibly earn.

We tend to forget about inconvenient items that no one can control such as bad genetics or pesky microbes or crazily dividing cells or hurricanes or dictators or senseless crimes or market meltdowns—and so much more.

Healthy, happy, and more than well fed, it’s good that we’ve not bought into the self-defeating victim mentality that is such a scourge in our society, but buying into the “I’m my own god” mentality is just as deadly to genuine gratitude—and to our souls. We’ve not created a single breath of our own air or spun this world an inch, much less given ourselves life.

It’s a good time to do some good thinking and thus to be moved to lots of thanking. Most of all, it’s a good time to genuinely thank God and try not to confuse him with the dim-witted pseudo-deity under our own hat.

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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