“We suffer from a settled determination to avoid thinking. Relatively few people want to think. Thinking troubles us; thinking tires us. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits; thinking can complicate our lives.”
– Alan Jacobs
It’s hard to keep an open mind.
We think we’re right. If anyone disagrees, by default we think they are wrong.
We’d rather not have to think about it. Thinking is hard work. It’s slow. It takes energy.
So we often shut down thinking and go with the flow. And that leads to trouble.
The Thinking Person’s Checklist
Below is a shortened list of The Thinking Person’s Checklist. It’s from the Afterword in Alan Jacobs’ brand new book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. (If you want to practice your thinking, read it. My brain is still tired. Also read his book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. It’s good, too.)
But first a warning: Jacobs doesn’t intend for this to be a set of techniques. Take it more as a “to-be” list than a “to-do” list.
“You have to be a certain kind of person to make this book work for you: the kind of person who, at least some of the time, cares more about working toward the truth than about one’s current social position.”
Jacobs’ list originally includes 12 statements. I’m sharing 6 here.
#1. Take 5
When faced with provocation to respond to what someone has said, give it five minutes. Take a walk, or weed the garden, or chop some vegetables. Get your body involved: your body knows the rhythms to live by, and if your mind falls into your body’s rhythm, you’ll have a better chance of thinking.
#2. Learn, Not Win
Value learning over debating. Don’t “talk for victory.”
#4. Be Quiet
Remember that you don’t have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness.
#7. Choose the Talker
Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.
#11. Use Their Words
Try to describe others’ positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing.
#12. Don’t Wimp Out
Thinking Is Social
You might notice a thread in the above list: Thinking is more of a social activity than we give it credit for. Jacobs says that no one thinks absolutely independently of other human beings. What we think is a response to what someone else has already thought and said.
My dad always gave us kids this advice: “Think for yourself.” But we can’t do it. We think with other voices in our heads and in our spaces.
Jacobs also points out that thinking requires us to trust other people. Don’t assume everyone is out to harm or manipulate you. Stop seeing a person as “the other.” Instead, see them as “my neighbor.” That will help you treat them well and not mock them.
And when you change your mind on something that your friends haven’t? Keep remembering the many things you still have in common. Don’t get overexcited about the differences.
Whatever you think about this, don’t stop now. Keep thinking.
“Thinking does not have a destination, a stopping point, a ‘Well, we’re finally here.’
~ * ~
To cease thinking, as Thomas Aquinas explained, is an act either of despair—‘I can’t go any further’—or of presumption—‘I need not go any further.’
~ * ~
What is needed for the life of thinking is hope: hope of knowing more, understanding more, being more than we currently are. And I think we’ve seen the benefits that come to people who have the courage and determination to do the hard work of thinking.
~ * ~
We have good cause for hope.”
* * *
Do you ever sit still and just think? Do you change your mind easily or rarely? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
My thanks to NetGalley
for the review copy of How to Think
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