Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Becoming a Thinker

Gerald and I got up early Saturday morning, fixed a cup of coffee, turned on the fire (ahh, the joys of a gas fireplace) and watched a special I had recorded Friday night on Fox News Channel about Charles Krauthammer.  I have always liked the man.  He seems level-headed and cool when others on the panel are yelling and running on emotions.  I like his style of oral commentary as well as his writing, so I thought I'd watch a nice little documentary about a man I already knew.  I ended up learning two things. 

When he was in college, he dove into a pool at Harvard one hot, July day, hit his head (as he put it) in a "sweet spot", and almost didn't make it back up.  It ended up severing his spinal cord and he lay motionless at the bottom of the pool.  Luckily, he was rescued.  He has been in a wheelchair ever since.  The interviewer asked him when he knew that this was a life-altering accident.  "Immediately," he responded.  But he said he decided at that moment that while he would probably be in a wheel-chair the rest of his life, he would continue living.  He ended up completing Harvard med school and went on to be a psychiatrist.  Who knew.  But that wasn't the most amazing thing I learned about him.

After working a few short years in a government job as an advisor in the psychiatric field, he saw an ad one day looking for a writer for a political opinion magazine in DC called The New Republic.  Krauthammer had studied political theory as an undergrad and while he was not a writer, he had a lot to say about politics.  Despite the fact he had no portfolio, he got the job.  So what's so surprising about this?  Well, The New Republic is a liberal publication.  It took a few rewinds of the old DVR and another cup of coffee to make sure I had heard right.  But I had.  Now Krauthammer is considered by most to be a conservative.  At least on foreign policy and economics.  After doing a little more research this weekend, I have found that we don't see eye-to-eye on issues like abortion and the death-penalty.  But the point is, he was a liberal intellectual who over the years has come to see the error of his ways.  (Just kidding.  Kinda.  This piece isn't about issues as much as how we think about issues.)

So where am I going with all this?  I kept reflecting on his story all day Saturday, trying to figure out how he got from there to here.  Then I wondered how some people get from here to there.  I guess it all just boils down to our thinking.  Or lack thereof.  You know the old joke.  There are three kinds of people - the kind who get math and the kind who don't.  Well, I have decided that there are three kinds of thinkers.  Those who think, those who don't think and those who think they think.  Think about it.  (Pun intended.  In fact, go ahead and get ready for several...)
 

Some folks are perfectly content to go through life without thinking.  They are willing to be told what to think.  What to do.  That's just fine with them.  They don't have the time, energy or maybe even the desire to think for themselves.  These people are relatively easy to spot after you've been around them a while.  They nod and smile a lot.  They take both sides of an argument...without realizing it.  They're nice enough people.  They don't mean any harm.  They just don't (ahem) think about what they're doing.  I have been one of these people.  At times, I still can be.

Then there are those who think they think.  I mean they have an answer for everything whether they've ever thought about it or not.  Or they hear what others think and if it sounds pretty good to them, they parrot it.  In fact, they might even live by it.  And in a lot of cases, do all right by it.  They always have an opinion and they're quick to share it.  You can pick out "think-thinkers" pretty easily, too.  And yes, I am often found in this category as well.  (I am still trying to live down the year or so I drove around with a Greenpeace sticker on the back of my car.  Uncle Greg (the Great) will probably never let me live that one down.  Nor should he.  I also voted for Ross Perot.  Again, evidence of a person who thinks she's a thinker.  But less we digress to a political conversation, I'll move along!)

But last we have the true thinkers.  That's what I want to be and what I think Krauthammer is.  In the interview, Bret Baier asked him simply - what happened?  How'd you change your mind?  His answer?  In a nutshell, he said he just started thinking about things.  He read, he listened.  He gathered info, and the "empirical evidence" (remember - he's a doctor) just didn't support his previous thinking.  That really stuck with me.  Obviously, he is a smart man.  I mean he made it through Harvard.  But I think sometimes it's more about common sense and not "overthinking" it.  But wait, maybe it's not thinking enough.  I'm not sure which.  I'm still thinking about it.

But my point is this.  I want to be a thinker.  I'm not saying I am looking to have my mind changed.  Or my political viewpoint.  Or my religious beliefs.  But I want to think about what I believe.  I want to own my opinions and beliefs.  I want to understand them.  I want to be able to express them in an organized and thoughtful manner.  Not just an emotional spew.  In order to do this, I've got to talk less, listen more.  Then let the thinking begin.  Never at a loss for words, this will be somewhat of a challenge for me!

This whole "thinking thing" is all still in the planning stages, so to speak.  I'm still thinking about how to become a thinker.  But I think (I know!  But hold on, the end's in sight!) the big takeaway is this.  Thinkers are willing to...are you ready for this?  Think.  They are not threatened by opposing opinions.  They are not rattled by questions on their beliefs.  They've thought it out already, and if need be, they'll think some more.  And one more thing.  They are not afraid to admit that maybe what they thought was wrong.  Talk to any person who is truly wise and I'll bet they will tell you that they are not the same person that they were a year ago.  Or a decade ago.  They are changing.  Evolving.  Maybe not as radically as Krauthammer did.  Perhaps they've come to a deeper understanding of the issues. Or maybe they've just deepened their own roots.  One way or another, they've grown, because they thought about it. 

Let me just end by saying that I think that there's a lot more to thinking than people really think.  I think it will take a lot of practice, but it think it's worth it in the end.  What do you think? 

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