I’m still working hard on editing Fragments, and I’m determined to have it done and published very soon. In the meantime, I’ve decided to share an essay from the book, all about the necessity of thinking and being a thinker in this increasingly polarised world of ours. Enjoy!
Being a thinker is not easy in a world that is increasingly hostile towards logical, intellectual, and complex ideas. If you value learning the different sides of a situation or researching into a topic over tribalism and black and white thinking, you might be feeling like the odd one out. When this world of ours is driven by the biased, increasingly politically polarised media we consume, where do you go, and who do you ask when you need to know something closer to the truth?
If you’re a thinker, yes, you might be prone to rumination, and over-analysis of things, but the world needs more people who are less prone to leaping into things without thinking. Not everything needs to be analysed and critiqued, but there is nothing better, in my opinion, than a deep conversation with a friend putting the universe to rights over a cup of tea or cocktail.
People who think before they leap, debate the pros and cons, or seem led by logical thinking, may at first appear to lack an understanding of emotion, but in my experience, the world would be a much less interesting place without them. Of course thinkers don’t lack emotion; they are just led towards a deeper consideration of the world around them. Unchecked emotion can lead us towards calamity; without an understanding of why we react the way we do, a lack of self-awareness, we risk losing perspective.
Thinking clearly comes with practice, and thinking clearly without judging ourselves takes time. Thoughts are electrical impulses in the brain: they come and go, creating pathways of well-trodden ground. As such, they can be ignored, thought-through, or acted upon. We have a certain amount of power to observe our thoughts and change those that no longer serve us, through a variety of ways – from meditation, to counselling, modern medicine, self-help, or journaling.
Being able to observe, to try to understand something before you commit or become involved in it, can be both an asset and a barrier. On one hand, observation allows you to see all the moving parts, to feel comfortable with a situation, or also help other people understand something more deeply. Yet, we also risk becoming too detached, setting ourselves apart, becoming too reliant on observing as a way of making ourselves comfortable at the expense of others. Seeing observation as a powerful tool is useful, but as with all things, it requires balance.
The best kind of thinking is that which doesn’t rely too much on the ego, on our need to be right. Being open minded, being able to change our minds, to admit that we don’t have all the information – in short, being open to seeing things from different perspectives – means we are always receptive to learning throughout our lives. The real trick is to understand that learning doesn’t stop once we finish school. Learning is out there – in the big wide world, in experience, in a deep commitment to constant reading, exposure to the things that interest us, or subjects we want to know more about. Never assume you know everything there is to know, or that you’ve seen all there is to be seen. I feel as if true wisdom comes from accepting we don’t, and can’t, know everything.
The more I have read, the more I have come to understand this. I will die without having read everything I want to read. I know that there is no point in reading things that I don’t enjoy if there is finite time to read and learn. The literature of the world is immense. You find your own path through it, through what interests you, and matters to you most. Everyone reads differently, and what will interest one person, won’t interest someone else. Still, there is value to be found in seeking out a variety of different perspectives, rather than just sticking to what you know you will enjoy.
I’ve found my interests have varied over the years – it has taken me on travels through neuroscience, feminism, popular psychology, memoirs, and history. I’ve read horror, science fiction, ‘literary’ fiction, crime fiction, paranormal fantasy, traditional fantasy, romance, slipstream, and steampunk fiction. What this has taught me is that my passion lies in knowledge and imagination, and that books can change your heart and mind. They can be dangerous, and they can be powerful. Sometimes, they raise our consciousness – open our eyes. Well informed people can change the world (and their lives), whether through everyday acts or something bigger.
We need thinkers in this world of ours, just as we need dreamers, pragmatists, doers, and people who are kind and loving. So many things around us are the result of people who invented, thought hard about what would make life better, thought about what democracy looks like, thought about how we want to live. Philosophers, inventors, politicians, teachers, writers, activists, leaders. We owe so much to them, and we can follow in their footsteps by learning more about them and what inspired them. To remember that ideas have the power to change the course of our lives. People are still fighting for these big ideas – equality, liberation, love, freedom, peace. These ideas underpin our everyday lives, whether we are aware of them or not – and people who make us aware of them are people unafraid of the power of ideas, who know that sometimes, it takes just one idea to change the course of history.
Often, thinking takes time. It can take years for the seed of an idea to fully develop into a tree of knowledge. Perhaps because our world is so fast, information is cheaper, and easier to get to, and ideas are fleeting, here one moment and gone the next. Yet knowledge and wisdom born of depth and experience are priceless. It takes time to understand something, time that we don’t think we have. Too much of our time is spent chasing novelty and we become hooked on the rush of immediate gratification. If we are to find answers or to find the right questions to ask, we need to slow down, become patient, take the time to think, sit with ourselves, and become comfortable with our minds. Spend time with writing, with reading, with talking (and listening) to others about a variety of subjects. Become interested and curious in things that you take for granted. Allow yourself to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Be more aware of how you think and what you think. What are your real opinions, what have your experiences really taught you?
Since our world is currently swinging towards political fundamentalism, where we all think we have an opinion that is largely informed by the politically biased media we read, it is more important than ever to question what we are being told. Truth is a slippery concept, because adults often lie to themselves and each other. There are layers upon layers of smokescreens shielding us from the truths in our society (and politics), truths that we don’t want to see or know – or, if we do know, have no idea how to begin to address them. The more we learn, the more we talk to each other without agenda or defensiveness, the more we will start to see a little of the truth. To me, truth is about authenticity, about seeing the problems in our society, the imperfections and the real, tangible things that need to change. You can only start to see those things when you let go of your own ego, and try to understand.
Be brave, and think before you leap. Appreciate the people in your lives who read a lot, who think a lot, who have quiet voices but a lot to say. Make room for silence and deep reflection in your life. Don’t be afraid of exploring and learning about something different. Talk to people about things that you’ve learnt. Ask them what they think. Make space for people to talk to you about what interests them. You might learn something new.
© All rights reserved, Elizabeth Ward, 2018.