‘Mimicking feels easy and safe. What feels risky for you is to truly think for yourself.’*
‘Values are the nervous system of a brilliant life. They connect everything. Put simply, values are right up there with oxygen.’**
It’s difficult to think for ourselves.
Sometimes when it is said to us, “You must think for yourself,” what’s really meant is, “I want you to go away and think more like me.” When any of us think, we’re using thoughts from those who’ve gone before us. What we call thinking for ourselves is the ability to take these thoughts and make something new from them – I think what Hugh Macleod is suggesting. Hopefully these become valuable both for those around us and also for those who follow, who will use them to make something new of their own – thinking for themselves.
Part of this unique reworking is how we wonder within the world, what we see and feel, leading on to what we do. Earlier today I read Kathleen Jamie’s Moon and was mesmerised by what the poet saw, helping me to see:
Last night, when the moon
slipped into my attic room
as an oblong of light,
I sensed she’d come to commiserate.
It was August. She travelled
with a small valise
of darkness, and the first few stars
returning to the northern sky,
and my room, it seemed,
had missed her. She pretended
an interest in the bookcase
while other objects
stirred, as in a rock pool,
with unexpected life:
strings of beads in their green bowl gleamed,
the paper-crowded desk;
the books, too, appeared inclined
to open and confess.
Being sure the moon
harboured some intention,
I waited; watched for an age
her cool gaze shift
first toward a flower sketch
pinned on the far wall
then glide down to recline
along the pinewood floor,
before I’d had enough. Moon,
I said, We’re both scarred now.
Are they quite beyond you,
the simple words of love? Say them.
You are not my mother;
with my mother, I waited unto death.^
Our curiosity as an opening of mind must move on to an opening of heart and the possibility of personal change, and with it confidence that we have something worthwhile and valuable, though we fear it may not measure up to what others think and do.
From this perspective, the number of imaginings and re-imaginings from what we have received from those around us and have gone before us are overwhelming. But we are thinking for ourselves, we will not stay behind:
‘When we refuse to stay behind, we become conduits to the future.’^^
Our imaginative thinking changes the game. Sherry Turkle highlights the problem we create when we work with quandaries – the situation shaped when we ask, “Do we do this or that?”:
‘The forced choice of a quandary, posed over time, threatens to become no quandary at all because we come to accept its framing […].’*^
Why does it have to be this or that? Why can’t there be other possibilities? The ones you want to bring?
Edgar Schein identifies three significant ways of Helping. There’s the expert or professional help personified by the consultant; there’s the diagnostic help personified by the doctor, but before we get to needing these helps, what we could do with is the inquiring help personified by the process facilitator:
“In life, the challenge is not so much to figure out how best to play the game; the challenge is to figure out what game we’re playing.”^*
Your thinking may be the game changer we need.
(*From gapingvoid’s blog: How to think like Elon Musk.)
(**From Michael Heppell’s How to be Brilliant.)
(^Kathleen Jamie’s Moon.)
(^^From Erwin McManus’ The Last Arrow.)
(*^From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together,)
(^*Kwame Anthony Appiah, quoted in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)