Why It’s Dangerous to Believe What You Think ($)
People who believe what they think don’t learn otherwise.
“Memories of emotional events are stamped on running water.”
James lives in the house next to mine. He was born with Klinefelter syndrome, a relatively common genetic condition, and it can go unnoticed. George Washington is purported to have had the condition. In James’s case, Klinefelter has seriously impaired his development. While chronologically 57 years old, James is an adolescent. He looks like an adult, but thinks like someone who’s 14.
We make many assumptions about people’s thoughts and behaviors. I think this is the main reason age groups naturally segregate. By limiting contact, they assure the members of their groups think alike. People in different age groups don’t understand each other. It’s not just a difference in fashion, it’s a difference in thinking.
What You Think is First What You Feel
There is validity to speaking of the brain’s layers, and the deeper you go, the more primitive things get. Our cerebral cortex is a thin layer on the outside of our brain, and this is where all of our human thought is said to be processed. Not that this can really be defined, but the idea is that the things that humans do are done here. That includes language, logic, and reason.
Every thought is motivated, and motivation is rarely reasonable. We find reasons for our thoughts after some needs have directed us to think, but the origin is need. Even emergencies are situations of need, and we execute a kind of thinking in emergencies, but mostly we respond by reflex.
Emergencies Create Thought Tunnels
“Anxiety is dangerous, but it makes you think it's your friend.”
In simple situations, like emergencies, our thoughts run along behind our actions. Even when we don’t have an immediate reflexive response, we have reflexive thoughts. These are usually associations we draw with previous, similar situations. Sometimes we think about the present and make calculated guesses, but usually we remember the past and make assumptions. In threatening situations, most of our thinking is pessimistic, and it should be as avoiding trouble is a priority.
If there is anything that could be defined as the opposite of trauma, it would be a positive attitude in a troubled situation. I remember a long fall off a big mountain during which I kept a continuous, positive attitude and, as a result, suffered no trauma. On another occasion, I was in a particularly good mood—manically light-hearted—after two days of rainy hiking through a trackless, boggy river valley. I remember it as a transcendently joyful state in what should have been a miserable adventure.
I could hardly claim logic was at work in either case, though one might argue that my reactions were useful. I suppose that if being anxious would have been helpful, then the more rational response would have been to be anxious, but in both cases there was nothing to be done other than to be positive.
Most Thoughts Are Reflex Associations
“Logic is necessary; since without it, you cannot even learn whether it be necessary or not.”
Thinking is mostly responsive. We do it for several purposes, and the primary purpose is to ensure our safety. The second purpose to which we apply ourselves is to gain benefit. But few of our thoughts result from careful analysis. One might say that few of our actions are thoughtful, but I think that gets us off the hook too easily. Most of our actions are thoughtful, they’re just not smart.
I have trouble with the word stupid. It seems like an important word that we use too casually in our efforts to avoid applying it to ourselves. By watching my neighbor James, I better understand what being stupid means.
If being smart is knowing the truth, then being stupid means believing what you think regardless of its truth. That could mean you believe what’s false, or that you don’t consider truth at all. It should be recognized that we never know the truth, and this is where being smart matters, because the smarter you are, the closer you can come to holding widely different versions of the truth in mind at the same time.
As a therapist, counselor, and coach, my skill is in thinking otherwise. Whatever you or I think, I perform the mental gymnastics to find alternatives. If I can help you find value in what might be different, then I can help you.
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