On Flippancy

I’ve been accused, on a somewhat regular basis, of thinking too much- the implication being that I’m a bit too serious. Since I so love my irony, I’ve been thinking about thinking.

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking,” Voltaire once said. The fact that this quote comes to mind more readily than others speaks to crux of the problem of thinking too much: it’s a difference in perspective on life itself, the lens through which I view the world. If the goal of thinking is to resolve a problem, and I think quite often, then I must view the world as a series of problems to be solved. If I look back on my short adult life, I realise that this is increasingly true. Each day, I see more and more of the world which needs to change. We’ve come a long way as a society, but the problems of humanity that have so outraged are not that far behind us. Given the age of mankind, political alliance through marriage, for example, are not exactly ancient history. It wasn’t too long ago that Galileo was burned for his ideas. Or, take much more recent history: segregation, for example, creationism, or the current gay rights movement. With so many wrongs that need righted, how can one not set aside time to ponder?

Not that I will solve these problems- I simply understand the importance of questioning the norm. After all, the above-mentioned atrocities were once considered the norm, at least within each offender’s respective society. The point is it took a new perspective, a new kind of courage, in each instance, to change the way the world viewed each problem. How, then, did this change in perspective come about? Inevitably, it starts with the individual. The printing press, the discovery that the earth was round, the economic policies that led to the Recession- all of these things began to change the world’s perspective by changing a single person (or group of persons)’s perspective. There are so many things that need changed today- the industrial age is at an end, and the workforce needs to change with it. Democracy and capitalism themselves have reached the tipping point, and we must now question the very fundamentals of the system in which we live. There’s no end to the challenges we face as a whole. As Einstein put it, “The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Yet, there must be something more personal involved. I don’t intend to change the world, so why do I think about these things? Socrates famously said that a live unexamined is not worth living. If my life is to be worth living, I must examine it- I must think. With more and more emerging research, mankind is starting to realise that our minds, our senses, our perceptions do little more than trick us all day long. We have now questioned the very purpose for which reason itself exists, or how much blameworthiness in a criminal can be attributed to free will, and how much to factors beyond the criminal’s control (physical, environmental, etc). If am to be the man that I hope to be, isn’t it imperative that I reflect on the way these emerging thoughts affect me as a man?

In the end, though, I have to agree that my detractors are right: I probably think too much. Combined with an understanding of myself in the here and now, developed largely through meditation practice, I also leave time for simply being here, now. Perhaps the problem is that I simply am not here and now often enough. Perhaps a little more balance is in order- and I thank those that have pointed out that I think too much for offering a little perspective on that balance. Perhaps, like alcohol, thinking serves us best in moderation.