Maya Angelou was right, “People will forget what you said...but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Because I don’t remember what this woman said to me, but I do remember how I felt: Attacked.
My heart was racing. I had two options: Lash out and defend my position, or excuse myself from the conversation.
My brain hastily searched for the best way out: Slip into the kitchen to get another drink? Go to the bathroom? Awkwardly appeal to my need to mingle?
But then I realized something: I felt attacked, but she wasn’t attacking me. She wasn’t even disagreeing with me. She had merely asked a question.
Don’t be other people. Be a thinking person. Only now, years later, do I understand why I felt so threatened. I had met a thinking person.
Oscar Wilde said it well,
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. -Oscar Wilde
Forgive the quotation, but it accurately describes who I was. I was someone else. Whatever I had said to that woman at that cocktail party, it wasn’t a thought. It was someone else’s opinion.
And I was encountering someone who was not someone else. She was herself. She was someone who didn’t speak in pre-programmed sound bites. Someone who didn’t merely parrot the latest news headline or social media meme. Someone who listened to what you said, asked questions about it, and expected a response. Someone who, in good faith, assumed I, too, was a thinking person.
Since that day, I have endeavored to become a thinking person. I’ll never truly master thinking. If I thought I could master thinking, that wouldn’t be very thinking-person-like of me.
But once in awhile, I do have a genuine thought. Some people agree with me. Because I’ve tried to become a thinking person, I was proud when an Amazon reviewer of my latest book called me “a very original thinker,” and when best-selling author Jeff Goins called me “an underrated thinker.” (Though it would be nice to be an appropriately-rated thinker.)
So, I humbly submit to you the way I think about thinking. How to have a thought.
There are four keys to having an original thought:
Read widely (not the same shit as everyone else) Stop having opinions (stop defending your “beliefs”) Stop wanting to be liked (start being intellectually honest) Write regularly (explore what you really think) In sum, assume nothing, question everything.
Now, a little more about each of these points.
1. Read widely (not the same shit as everyone else) Haruki Marakami said,
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. -Haruki Marakami
The same way you are what you eat, you also are what you read. This is a little counterintuitive, because, in trying to become a thinking person, we’re trying not to have all of our thoughts be mere re-hashings of something we’ve read.
Don’t think of reading as a way to put thoughts into your brain. Think of reading as a way of trying on someone else’s brain for a little while.
This is why a book is such a bargain: Someone spends their whole life thinking. They write all of that down. Now for ten bucks you get a lifetime worth of thinking, sewn into a costume you can try on for a few hours.
Charles Scribner, Jr. said, “Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.” With a book, you can try on someone else’s thoughts, and see how they feel. You can question those thoughts, and compare them to your own thoughts.
Sometimes a book completely reorganizes the way you process the world. Other times, you just get one or two good ideas.
But to have original thoughts, you can’t be reading the same thing everyone else is reading. This is