The three topic options for a term paper in my freshman philosophy class didn’t interest me at all. I looked over the requirements for our term papers – we wrote four over the course of the semester – and thought that it doesn’t explicitly say I had to write on the assigned topics to get an A grade. Knowing that the paper with the lowest grade got dropped from the calculation for our final course grade, I took a risk. I wrote a paper in flawless logic proving that, “Students in Philosophy 110 don’t have to write on the assigned topics in order to get an A on their term papers.”
I never worked so hard on the reasoning, wording and grammar for a paper! Several people reviewed it and offered editorial comments. I placed it in the graduate assistant’s box a week later satisfied he had to give me an A. Since he was a major in philosophy, he’d appreciate the novel approach and sound reasoning my paper demonstrated. But, no such luck! A big, deliberate “F” in blood-colored ink stained the paper’s cover page when I got it back. (Think of Ralphie’s reaction to his C+ Red Ryder BB Gun paper in A Christmas Story.)
A lot of lip service is given to independent thought, but most leaders, governments, teachers, and managers want you to think safely within the limits of their own perceptions. The experience of receiving a failing grade on that paper didn’t deflate my efforts to be an independent thinker, it accelerated them! It’s time to quit subjecting our mind power and all the accompanying profits to others. How do we learn to think for ourselves?
Lose the Herd – Distrust the Tribe
If enough people believe something, that doesn’t make it true. Does the collective voice of your “tribe” dictate your ideas and opinions? “Social proof” is a fallacy. One of my favorite quotes is, “You become what you obey.” Do you want to become another number in the mediocre crowd of people? Then try to please them all and appear normal. Would you rather have an extraordinary life? Then despise groupthink.
“They tell you that you should be yourself and that will take you far,
but first you have to figure out just who the hell you are!”- Anonymous
You can lessen the herd’s influence on your thinking by staying off social media sites (except mine, of course). Spend more time writing your own blog than reading others’ posts (uh…except mine…of course). Just because a book is bestselling, that doesn’t mean it’s really one of the best books. To think outside the box, you need to start reading outside the box.
The skill I want more than any other is the ability to ask unprecedented questions. How do we develop the habit of asking explosive questions? (Explosive in the sense that they break down walls of routine thought patterns.) Have you ever heard that a reporter’s best friends are Who, What Where, Why, When and How? How might your life and learning improve by reconsidering many of your own assumptions?
“If you want something you’ve never had before,
you have to do something you’ve never done before.” -via Chris Guillebeau
Consider some of the questions I need to answer to supercharge my own learning goals: Where is communication technology heading, and what can I do to stay on top of those developments? In a tight economy, what are people still willing to pay for? What would I do if I lost my job tomorrow?
Leap of Faith or Dive of Desperation?
I believe imagination will serve you much better than memorization will. Considering what may be will prove more profitable than what has been. Acting on faith means pressing forward to realize things you haven’t seen before.
“The value of an education…is not the learning of many facts but the training of
the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” -Einstein
What else can you do to think for yourself? What other obstacles are there that hinder independent thought?