How Not to Think

Food for Thought

Mark asked how to “balance both being passionately intellectual and not scaring people off.” Indeed, thinking can be unpleasant for many. What are the conditions and why? Here are my thoughts on thinking.

Thinking can bore people when the speaker is oblivious to the listeners’ interests. Playing music is pleasurable even if you play the same piece repeatedly, but it can be unpleasant or even annoying for the listeners. Likewise, thinking can be pleasurable for the thinker, who might lose track of how others feel about it. Everyone tends to be guilty of this. Some people accuse me of this, but I find them boring, too. So, we are even.

The type of thinking that scares people off is one that goes so deep it destabilizes the sacred assumptions on which their identities are built. Most people have ideas and thoughts they carefully repress to protect these assumptions. Even if you do not intend to destabilize their identities, digging deep on any topic can uncover or touch on these foundational assumptions.

If you can think and speak about it, it means your identity is not built on that assumption; you either didn’t assume it or have a different one. So, it’s difficult for you to understand why it would cause so much fear, anxiety, or even pain in others. You would not have compassion for it until someone does the same to you, which likely comes as a shock. I’ve met many people who love sharing critical opinions, but when criticized, they act like they have never seen themselves in a mirror. Some may claim they make no assumptions, but if that were true, they would have no opinions either. All arguments are built on assumptions.

If you want to avoid destabilizing anyone, share your thoughts only on “pull” mediums, like websites and social media. Don’t engage or address anyone directly. You could use “push” mediums like email as long as you address enough people that nobody feels personally engaged.

Whether you prefer to dig deep to see the bottom of the abyss (psychoanalysis) or learn how to keep them buried (psychotherapy), you won’t escape suffering, but you can avoid unnecessary troubles by paying attention to everyone’s preferences.