Recently… OK, it was yesterday… I was reminded of the importance of thinking. Which reminded me that one of the disciplines I highly recommend is that of thinking. You say, “But we think all the time.” But do we? I’m not so sure.
How often do we respond, not out of thought, but out of instinct or as a reflex to some external stimuli, one we might not even be aware of? It’s hard – maybe impossible – to tell why we do things without intentional, disciplined consideration, i.e. thought.
I propose the practice of a short-term discipline of thinking about everything we do. Yes, I mean everything. Why did I choose the cereal I’m about to eat? Why did I decide to buy fuel from that gas station? Do I really need to say that?
Here’s a simple example of a simple decision that, when thought out fully, reveals more than most of us care to know. You pull into a vast, nearly full parking lot. What do you do? You drive around until you find the closest possible (hopefully, legal) parking spot. Now think about it.
Why did you do it? To get as close to your ultimate goal as possible. But at what cost? You used fuel that is costly and in increasingly limited supply. You missed out on exercise that (admit it, now) you probably need desperately. You took a good spot from someone else, maybe someone whose need is far greater than yours.
That’s a lot of thought for such a minor task, but it reveals selfishness, a lack of sensitivity to others’ as well as your own needs, and short-sighted use of valuable resources.
Here are a few more things to think about:
- Why did I turn on the TV? Was there absolutely nothing else more important to do with my time? Doubtful.
- Why did I buy that bag of chips? Did I really need them? Sure, I did.
- Why did I visit a chain restaurant instead of some locally owned and operated place? The chain can afford to advertise during the football game, Mom and Pop’s place can’t. But that isn’t the reason, right? I couldn’t possibly have been swayed by mass marketing like so many sheep.
- Did I really have to tell someone that story that showed a common acquaintance in a poor light?
- Was the attitude I expressed in that email fair to the recipient? Does it matter?
- Did I have to correct that simple error?
Not that there’s anything terribly wrong about those things. Some are good, some not so. But why did we act the way we did? It’s worth considering. And that list doesn’t even scratch the skin on the outside of the top of the surface. This discipline could be exhausting, but it could also be revealing.
So try it for one hour. If you succeed, try it for a day.
At least try it for a single decision.
Afterword: Here’s a hint about the attitude of our society – the mold we are being squeezed into unless we resist it intentionally and forcefully. I went to Google images to try to find an image that said something about thinking before acting. Instead I was bombarded with Nike-esque slogans saying, “Don’t think, just do it.” It’s good marketing but bad advice.