The World’s #1 Problem
All around us we see our society and those of other nations in chaos and conflict. Is there a single underlying cause for this worldwide dilemma? Yes! I am convinced the single most devastating societal syndrome conflicting our world today is the lack of independent thought by the majority of the world’s people. Too simple you say?
Visualize a balance, one tray labeled Independent Thought, the other Mandated Thought. Now, one at a time, rate the world’s nations—past and present, democratic, autocratic, free, warring, healthy, and unhealthy. With virtually no exception, every nation or society, past or present, allowing Independent Thought, was/is far superior in every way to those that Mandate what their people think/believe. To mandate beliefs is to jail thinking entirely. Their people never actually “think,” they merely regurgitate.
The terror within the warning nations of the Middle East and Africa is because beliefs are mandated/dictated by their rulers. You must adhere to said beliefs, often religious based, or die. As well, you must kill any infidel, whether it be an infant or an old woman, if “they” don’t adhere (just forget that an infant can’t adhere to anything). These “believers” have literally no mind of their own or one shred of independent thought; to the extreme extent that they think they will the escorted to ‘heaven’ by strapping explosives to their chest and killing a hundred innocent women and children who are not believers. They are totally reliant on dictated beliefs. We’re not talking a random few sad individuals. We’re talking societies, sects, cults, and nations that teach their children that killing nonbelievers is good.
Now, look closely within our beautiful nation, our own society where there is serious unrest. It’s really not much different is it? A single madman of hate stands in front of a huge crowd flailing his arms and chest, screaming wildly “Burn them, burn them, burn them.” And all those angry “Reliant Thinkers,” having not one moment of independent thought that maybe burning down the businesses of innocent people who have nothing to do with their anger simply isn’t right, go and burn them down. I wonder if later at home putting their kids to bed they “thought” for just a split second about how wrong they were; or are they so badly inculcated with hate that it never crossed their minds that they burned down innocence? Sadly, probably the latter. Whether a nation, society, city, neighborhood, slum, or group, when all its people are reliant on the dictates of anger, disdain, and prejudice, and independent though doesn’t exist, there can be no hope for a better life–ever.
The unhealthy communities and slums of our nation are largely those of standardized individuals without personal originality, personal goals, or personal ambitions. The feet of these people are stuck in the quagmire of dependence on others with the same lack of ambition—they are reliant only on each other and go nowhere together. Their desire for approval and recognition is bounded by this lack of vision or ambition—thus they see nothing beyond the lack of success of their deficient peers. They are of like-mind and huddle together in a pool of negativity, complaint, anger, and even hate, often convincing themselves that theft is justified, or even burning down innocence. Those who know right from wrong and wish to change all that are outnumbered, fear reprisal for thinking differently, and don’t have the resources to leave–thus the cancer only grows.
Sadly, independent thought is not popular. Look at our schools, churches, media, organizations, and system of government. We are forever being “told” what to believe, think, do, and how to act. Everything you read in the papers or see on the television is someone telling us what we should think. Popular media is only regurgitated, conventional, biased knowledge. Very little we see or hear is independent, and when it is, we often think it radical.
Conventional thinking stagnates and paralyzes progress, and can move us backwards. Thinking like everyone else nails your feet to their shoes, thwarting any movement beyond their beliefs and values, and you can achieve nothing beyond their limited capability. Independent thinking is required to make progress or significant achievements. To truly “achieve,” we must avoid the banal influences of others and think for ourselves, maybe even impossibly. To move beyond the norm we must first move beyond our reliance on society, celebrate our individuality, and think independently—this results in true wisdom.
The really good news is that great intelligence or advanced education is NOT a requirement to think independently. Conventional wisdom tells us we put shoes on our feet and peanut butter on bread, yet a child may put the shoes on his hands or head, and use the peanut butter as face lotion. Independent thinking lets children experiment without anxiety. Sure, they may be wrong, but too, they can be shockingly correct. Most people cling to the familiar, it is much easier. If, however, you truly want to think independently, you must leave your comfort zone in the routine and sail into the winds of creativity.
As individuals, we have become dependent on society. This is only bad when it is at the cost of our own independent thinking. Sadly, much of society drives our thoughts towards the negative and the routine—a serious threat. Independent thought, critical to individuality and creativity, is often relinquished to society simply because it is easy to join the crowd. So much so that many of us seldom, if ever, exercise our ability to think out of the box society has us in. Worse yet, society breeds egotistical and selfish attitudes which only accentuate negativity at the cost of kindness, happiness, and generosity. We often put our feeling and needs before others and totally ignore beyond our self-interest—gratitude becomes greed.
As parents and teachers, we must be careful not to make the acquisition of fundamental knowledge the sole purpose of education. We should guard against teaching the easy way: that knowledge alone creates individual success, that a memorization is better than creativity, or that intelligence lies in a high grade. Yes, fundamental knowledge is essential, but far more critical is to develop the ability for independent thinking. A grade of “C” resulting from independent thinking is far and away more valuable than an “A” based on memorization. When a person masters the fundamentals of his subject, that knowledge alone allows no advancement—it is mere knowledge. The value of fundamental knowledge lies only in its ability to advance knowledge, and that takes independent thought and creativity. Aristotle, Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other independent thinkers used fundamental knowledge to feed their independent thought—look where it got them.
Truly sad is that so many use “thought” for mere existence without realizing there is so much more to life. Through our emotions and thoughts, we own the most refined pleasures capable of ‘life.’ Yet how many of us realize and utilize them to the fullest? The chores and chaos of ‘living’ seem to overrule the happiness, pleasures, and creativity afforded us all if only we would run with our independent thinking. Sadly, emotions, feelings, and independent thought are not seen as part of a societal norm and are largely kept a bay. How often do we as parents, colleagues, teachers, or mentors, talk about independent though or the value of emotion? How often have you seen a course in independent thinking, creativity, or how to benefit from our emotions, let alone took one? Society teaches us that the norm is good. It may indeed be good, but it is definitely not all there is, in fact, the norm is, if anything, mediocre. There is so much more; if you don’t believe me, ask Stephen Hawking. Here’s a man, completely paralyzed, with nothing resembling a normal life, yet totally happy and completely fulfilled, all simply because of independent thought–I envy him.
How I wish the expression of deep emotions and feelings was the rule rather than the exception. How I wish every person would relish a tear forming in their eyes when they say “I love you” to someone, or when they simply hear a magnificent piece of music, or see a humpback whale breach, or view the perfect sunset, or write a poem, or simply think about how much they love their children, spouse, or a special person in their life—that my friend, is the epitome of independent thought—completely alone with yourself, just your emotions and thoughts, resulting in the wondrous gift of your tears, or even a short poem.
The importance of independent thought over reliant thinking cannot be overstated. Fundamental knowledge is but the fuel for independent thinking. Independent thought and freedom of emotion can give us all the happiness and success life has to offer, and without them, the pinnacle of living will simply never be reached, no matter how hard we try. tj