What are you thinking?

November 20, 2019

A quote today from the Jack’s Winning Words Blog got me to thinking – “It’s not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”  (Rene Descartes)

Rene Descartes

Maybe Descartes should have added “or to use it at all”. How many times have you seen news stories or heard about some incident  and immediately what popped into your mind was the question, “What were they thinking?”

Maybe they weren’t thinking at all. Perhaps their actions were being driven by unbridled anger, such as in the numerous “road rage” stories that we hear about so often. Perhaps preconceived prejudices or unfounded fears had taken over, as we witness in the many stories in the news about black people being discriminated against in restaurants and elsewhere. In many news stories, we are told that they probably weren’t thinking at all because their minds had been clouded by drugs or alcohol.  In all of those cases there is no good answer to the question, What where they thinking?

Jack wrote in his post that he admired Descartes because he was not afraid to use his mind and to disagree with others in his day. It is also important to use one’s mind to question your own thoughts, opinions and actions or reactions to things that are occurring around you. I have not yet mastered the ability to completely shut out old prejudices or preconceived ideas from my past; however, I have developed more awareness of when they take over my mind or cause a specific reaction. I am more able now to stop myself quicker from proceeding down a path that those prejudices may be dictating. When I stop and ask myself the question, “What were you thinking?” the answer most often is that I wasn’t really thinking, I was letting something else control my emotions and actions or reactions. That pause to think allows me to regain some measure of control.  I only wish that I took that pause to think more often.

Perhaps the best take away from today it that you can’t go through life on cruise control or auto-pilot. Just like current experiments with autonomous cars, there are too many things that may occur in life that require that you keep your mind focused upon the steering wheel of your life.  That means using your mind, as Descartes recommended and constantly being aware of what you are thinking and (more importantly) why you are thinking that way. It is important to examine and challenge the thoughts and actions of others; however, it is just as important to challenge the basis of your own thoughts and actions and to ask yourself the question – What were you thinking?

The real challenge for us all is to move from the past tense in that little phrase and become more aware in the present of what we are thinking and why. That is what Descartes was saying when he advised that we use our minds well. It means staying in control by constantly being aware of your own thoughts, preconceived or otherwise, and making better decisions about what you allow to control your emotions and reactions to events in life. Just keep asking yourself, “What am I thinking ?” and, like Descartes, keep questioning, why?

Use your mind well today.  What are you thinking?

Consequences one way or another…

September 12, 2015

“When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action.”  (Lois Bujold) – from  a recent post on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

We all make decisions all day long, some of them leading to taking some action. We may sign up for something or maybe we respond to something. Perhaps we make the decision to say yes or no to some invitation or maybe we just get in the car and start off towards some destination. Sometimes we make those decisions and take those actions in haste. Many times we may not give a lot of thought to the consequences of those decisions and actions.

overwhelmedIn addition to the consequences that one might expect from any action, there are usually some unintended consequences lurking about that also may result. As humans we get to use the phrase, “I didn’t mean to do that” quite a bit more than we’d like. That is usually the result of consequences from an action that was not well thought out or from unintended consequences that we just didn’t foresee. Our ability to speak and our rush to use that ability is often something that we take too little time to reflect upon before taking action. There is a great little saying about that which might save more than a few of us from the consequences of blurting out our opinions and thoughts.

“Be a good listener.  Your ears will never get you in trouble.”  (Frank Tyger)listening

Being a good listener is a choice, too. You might initially think that it is a choice to be passive, rather than to take action; however, choosing to listen is an action and one that is sometimes the best thing that you can do for the other person and for yourself.

But, what of the more active choices that we must make every day in life? For those I found an interesting little quote that is simple, yet maddeningly complex at the same time.

“Make the right choices for the right reasons and the right things will happen.”  ― Charles F. Glassman

OK, that makes sense to me; but what are the right reasons that will lead me to make the right choices? We will never be able to always make the right decisions; but maybe if we start from the right frame of mind we will do a bit better on more of those choices. LJ Vanier had the right idea when he said:

“I don’t always make the best choices, but today I choose compassion over intolerance, sympathy over hatred and love over fear.”

prayingPerhaps if we start each day making some choices like those that Vanier stated we will end up with fewer bad or unintended consequences in life. Maybe the best way to achieve that frame of mind is to start each day with a little prayer and ask the Lord to help you make the decisions that you must make that day with those choices already in mind. Just taking the action to start your day with a prayer will itself result in amazingly positive consequences.

Have a great and consequential weekend!