“All of humanity’s problems stem from [our]* inability to sit alone in a room.”Blaise Pascal, Pensées
*The word, “our”, was used to replace the word, “man’s”, found in the original English translation. This was to make the quote more relevant and inclusive.
Thinking is our super power.
Without it, we stand no chance.
Blaise Pascal, 17th Century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and theologian, summed it up quite beautifully when he wrote:
“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.”Blaise Pascal, Pensées
One could wonder: “How could being aware of what is killing me and how it’s killing me make me nobler than the culprit itself? Whether it’s a virus, bacteria, a tsunami, or an animal attack, I am quite certain that this thing is far stronger than I.”
There is truth in that musing. We are quite fragile when set against the backdrop of our surrounding natural habitats and animal kingdoms, and that is why Blaise calls us “reeds”: It really does take very little to snap us in half.
Perhaps we’re a little more aware of that fragility because of our current global circumstances. But to stop at fear is to stop the ingenuity, creativity and greatness that stem from our unique ability to think.
To think, however, is easier said than done. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes practice. And we’re not exactly in the habit of doing it regularly.
But the required social distancing and isolation that we’ve been plunged into in recent weeks offers a wonderful opportunity to practice our super power.
The following is a three step program that I use to hone my own intellective capacity:
In his masterful tome, The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship, David Whyte proposes writing in order to discover what one truly thinks. It can be done in a journal, via blogs, or on random sheets of paper. The key is to do it1.
Write about what excites you most. Write about what scares you most. Write what you’d like the world to hear from you. Write your own proposal to optimally handle the COVID-19 outbreak.
The point is: write. By doing so, you’ll be externalizing your ideas and placing them in plain sight, helping you to see how crisp and well organized they actually are, if at all.
Ideas require appropriate cultivation in the garden of your mind, and the more ideas you cultivate, the richer your landscape will be.
Another analogy I like to use is that of ideas being tools and thought being the act of sharpening them. Logically, the more tools one has, the more versatile that thinker will be. My favourite blogger, Shane Parrish, tirelessly emphasizes the need to read continuously to continue building, sharpening and acquiring new tools so as to constantly better one’s ability to interact with the world. He also features great annual reading lists, in case you’re looking for a starting point.
Parrish is also adamant about turning to the classics that have withstood the test of time. He strongly urges his own readers to avoid clickbait and to be weary of confusing quickly expressed online opinions with thoroughly and painfully researched facts. Do yourself a favour and turn to books rather than the infinitude of fake news memes, anxiety-inducing videos, and the endless social media walls that can’t seem to speak of anything other than COVID-19.
At laughsatives, we’re committed to providing readings with accurate and truly informative sources. On the “COVID Operation” page, you’ll notice numerous links that have been carefully curated and categorized. We will also be launching a “Pandemic Reading List” with relevant books that may help address some of the issues that folks are facing these days.
Look at what you’ve written, reflect on what you’ve read, and then see if you can find any connections between the two to start forming those new neural pathways. If you do, write them down and then go read some more.
(C) Laughsatives ’20
1There is a body of research that has looked at the physiological and psychological benefits of writing narratives, especially about experienced trauma. If you’re interested to learn more about this, check out Dr. J. W. Pennebaker’s work on the subject.