Thinking for yourself

Posted on July 05th, 2013

When I was young, I had a friend Alex. I’d frequently come home with what my mom called, “Alex stories.” He was quite a rambunctious kid. Wild, actually. Occasionally, because we were friends, we would get into trouble with the teacher and that dreaded note would be sent home to my mother, telling her of my crimes. That terrifying “note.” When my mother would conduct her interrogation, in my defense, I’d say, “Alex told me to do it.” Not the best of defenses, I’ll give you, but it was the best I could come up with at the time. My mother’s repeated question was the obvious one and it got me every time. She’d ask: “IF ALEX TOLD YOU TO JUMP OFF A BRIDGE, WOULD YOU DO IT?” That question nailed me every single time. With her simple and straightforward question, forevermore, she made sure that I’d use MY judgment every single time, all the time. Before I said something, and certainly before I’d do anything important, I’d ask myself, “Whose idea was this? Whose thinking was this?” She insisted that I think for myself. All the time. Take note here – What I’m about to tell you should not be construed as a code to live by. It’s not. And it’s not a recipe. Rather, it’s an attempt to get you into your kitchen.

Think about it for a moment…to what degree would you say that you think for yourself? And to what degree would you say that your life might be shaped and influenced by what other people have said…or what you think they think, or what they have told you, or what you know that they’ve told others?  Most people say that they always think for themselves and they never do anything but think for themselves. I really hope you’re not one of them! I particularly hope that you’re not so hypnotized, narcotized, or unconsciously naïve, or so removed and so out of touch with yourself that you’ll argue…or worse, that you’d audaciously insist, “I’m my own person,” or, “I always make up my own mind,” or, “I always form my own opinions.” Can you really be that sure? Can you afford to be so arrogant? Really?

How about this: Do yourself a favor — wait until you’re through reading this before you bet anything. And…at least wait until I’m through saying what I have to say here, before you argue or insist anything at all.

I’ll give you a healthy head-start by asking you a few questions as hints: Did you ever promise yourself that you’ll never be like your parents? How has that turned out? Do you ever remind yourself of your parents? Do you ever find yourself in situations where you sound like they did? Do you sometimes sound exactly like them? Do you ever act like them, or think the way they thought? And if you have children, have you ever caught yourself saying to your kids those things that you promised that you’d never ever say when you became a parent, because when your parents said those things to you, you hated it?  Exactly how far, really, did you, the “apple,” fall from them, the “tree”?

For example, do you want to be thinner? Why? Is it really for your benefit or is your desire colored by what you think others think of you or might think of you? Why do you care so much, so frequently, about what you think others’ opinions are of you and what you think others think of you? Yes, I know you want to be thin or fit for health reasons, of course; you want to be healthy; I know that. But I’m talking about the times you look in the mirror or you ask someone, “How do I look?”  Or, “Do I look fat?”

I’ll bet you, and I’ll give you odds, that sometime while you’re reading this, you’ll question how much original thinking you actually do, and that there will be times when you wonder exactly how much you actually do think for yourself.  That’s what I’m hoping to accomplish in writing this. I’m hoping that there’ll be several times while reading this when you wonder to what extent you have any original thoughts at all. Well, let me try to alleviate some of your worry. Yes, of course you sometimes think for yourself. But wouldn’t it be useful to know with certainty, which of your thoughts have been donated to you, which thoughts you’ve unintentionally borrowed and taken on…which of your thoughts have been bequeathed to you, which ones are “hand-me-downs,” which of your thoughts are the result of your having been programmed and unconsciously brainwashed, and which ones you were scared into having…so that you can come to know for sure, which of your thoughts and which of your choices are really truly your own?

It can get quakingly unnerving to find out how much of your thinking isn’t genuinely and originally yours. So be prepared for some unpleasant surprises; that is, if you’re willing to know the truth. It’s particularly upsetting when you find out that you’ve been, to a great extent, unaware and oblivious to how many of your decisions are based on thinking that’s not yours. That means that there are times when you don’t know that you’re thinking or expressing programmed thoughts, doing it and doing it seemingly automatically and somewhat robotically — you didn’t originate those thoughts. It hasn’t been your conscious choice to think them!

Keep in mind that your thinking generates your decisions, and your actions, and your intentions.  Your dreams, your aspirations, and your goals are all the results of your thinking.  When you make choices, large or small, they’re all based on your thinking.  As such, I think it is fair to say that your experience of life is a function of your thinking.  So, whose life are you living if you are not thinking YOUR thoughts, exclusively?

Personally…I can’t think of anything scarier! I think you’ll be amazed, and maybe even shocked, to find out just how much of your thinking isn’t authentically your own. It’s similar to having been given post-hypnotic suggestions. You’ve become an unwitting pawn and you’re being moved around by your concerns about other people. And some of those people aren’t even alive anymore. It can be quite astonishing and even appalling, to find out just how much our culture, now and from the past, has influenced you and shaped your thinking, your communication, and your actions, without your even knowing it. This document just might turn out to be one of those rude awakenings that occasionally occurs in life. It could even turn out to be very rude…but it will be an awakening. And to be great, to live an outstanding life, you must pay attention and you must be awake!

One of the reasons that greatness is as rare as it is, is that most people are very attached to their thinking. That isn’t so bad, if your thinking is worth attaching yourself to. But, for most people, one of the most important goals in life is for them to be popular and well-thought-of. Often people place more importance on being seen a certain way than on being a certain way.  As a result, people have become attached to custom, precedent, and convention — conventional wisdom, conventional thinking, conventional communication, conventional behavior…conventionality! Think about it. How can you be both conventional and great? I think you have to choose.

And part of the reason for this attachment to convention is that our culture doesn’t readily accept people who are different. It never has. It’s frightened by it, it criticizes it, it ridicules it, and generally makes life very difficult for those who are different and who don’t fit in. You know exactly what I’m talking about, I’m sure. (You’re probably even painfully aware of it, because it’s my guess that if you’re reading this, you’ve been “different” most of your life.) If you spend any protracted time with children who don’t blend in and who aren’t “regular,” and therefore stand out, you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Especially if they speak candidly and they tell you about their loneliness and about their anguish, which they will tell you when they open their broken hearts to you.

Why do you think the phrase “dare to be different” includes the word “dare”? Obviously, it’s because it’s so terribly risky, and sometimes even dangerous, to be different. Isn’t it sad that being different requires so much daring? Well guess what! If you want to be great…you’ll have to give up your need to appear conventional and fit in! If you’re great, you’re not exactly like everybody else! If you’re great…you stand out. You are different!

Yes, it’s risky! Yes, it can get very challenging.  Even dangerous. As such, it will take some daring. So you may have to work on yourself to become less frightened. Or…if you can’t get rid of your fears…you’ll have to increase your ability to do what you need to do in the presence of your fear. Just like heroes do. It’s called courage. You may even have to do some serious work on yourself, so you can bring out more of the greatness that lies hidden under your fears. Because greatness, by definition, means not being ordinary. Being great means that you’re not customary, you’re not routine, you’re not common, and you’re definitely not usual. You’re not typical and you’re by no means conventional.

If you recall, there’s a wonderful line in the movie, Men in Black. The character “K,” played by Tommy Lee Jones, explains to his partner that “human thought is so primitive, it’s looked upon as an infectious disease in some of the better galaxies.” I love that line! I particularly appreciate the use of the word “infectious.” I interpret the line to mean that conventional thinking is contagious and more importantly, that it can be harmful. If you disagree, even a little, come back to our website from time to time for more evidence. I think you’ll come to agree. It might be quite an unpleasant experience at first, but it will be an honest experience. And it could turn out to be a profound and life-altering experience. Imagine…you might actually get to think for yourself. What do you think that experience will be? What kind of person might you turn out to be? What might you be capable of doing and producing? What might you accomplish with the rest of your life?

While you’re thinking about it, hasn’t every important leader or teacher in history been a great thinker? Not one of them blended in; they all stood out more than sore thumbs do. And not one of them was conventional! Not one! To be a great thinker, you must think for yourself. Of course, you won’t fit in. Of course, you will be considered strange. Of course, you won’t be average! Of course, you won’t be routine. You won’t be regular and you definitely won’t be “one of the crowd.” You’ll probably be considered and called “weird.” You’ll be asked what planet you come from. You won’t be considered normal. But you can’t be a rebel for rebel’s sake, either. You can’t be a reactionary. And you can’t think of yourself as a victim. You can’t be a conformist and you can’t be a non-conformist. You can’t act superior and you can’t act inferior. You must be your own person. You must come to know that you are unique. You’ll just have to be yourself. And you’ll have a chance of being great.

Maybe after reading this, you’ll consider taking that chance.