For a number of years now, I have been grieved by something I am seeing. Maybe you've seen it, too. It's the mindless rant. When I was young, it wasn't common to watch grown adults descend into nasty ranting rages at the slightest provocation. It wasn't common to see people completely discount each other's value as human beings simply because they didn't agree. But now, I get to see this behavior every time I open social media (or listen to a presidential debate). This has become the "normal" world in which our kids are growing up. Sadly, these increasingly common rants are rarely even well thought out. They are just nasty and often involve repeating information that the ranter hasn't even checked. As the rants become more common, they are also becoming more shallow. We have become a narcissistic society, totally wrapped up in hearing ourselves. It grieves me.
Finding a solution:
I have spent a good deal of time thinking about this. Maybe too much time. I have also done a lot of people watching. My conclusion? Our use of social media isn't helping us become deeper, more compassionate people. In fact, I am watching us quickly become more and more shallow, and less and less caring. And it isn't just the World. It is the Church.
I may not be able to stop it from happening, but I don't want to be part of the problem. I want to forge a better path. I want my kids to watch me forge that better path, and hopefully gain courage to forge their own, even better path. The question is, "How?"
That's when I began to formulate my own, personal ProjectTHINK.
But before I explain ProjectTHINK, let's look a little deeper:
At what point did our culture begin to believe that a different opinion was ultimately a personal attack? Why do we feel so threatened when someone thinks or believes differently than we do? Are we so insecure in our own values and beliefs that we cannot tolerate anyone who thinks differently than us? Are we so frightened of their differing values that we can't talk to them, but instead, post angry rants about them to those whose thinking aligns with our own? Is this method making the world a better place? Is it changing anyone's minds? Is it working?
Social Media & Shallow Thinking:
I don't believe social media contributes to deeper thinking. For instance, would there have been an Einstein if there had been social media in his day? So many of his revolutionary ideas came as a result of what he called "thought experiments" - essentially periods of time during which he deeply thought through all the implications and results of a scientific or mathematical theory. These thought experiments led him to overthrow some of Sir Isaac Newton's long-held theory and led him to his own theory of relativity. Would that have happened in this age of "react first, think later" social media?
Social media causes us to think on a very surface, shallow level. In order to even come up with the questions, let alone think through to the answers, it requires deep, probing thought. That is a skill our society, I fear, is quickly losing. When would Einstein have done this deep, probing thinking if his cell phone was constantly dinging while he feverishly checked his Facebook, read his Twitter feed, and snapped selfies of himself eating his lunch?
The Cure for Shallow Thinking = Training the Mind to Think Deeply
As I began to realize that we were losing the ability to truly think deeply even as we were gaining the ability to be far more vocal about our thoughts, I also realized that it wasn't always so. There was a time when the bulk of society had a much broader knowledge base from which to draw. They thought on a much deeper, more empathetic plane. What was different?
I noticed a couple things. First and foremost, I noticed 2 very important things:
1. Most people in times gone by (even those who did not consider themselves Christians) had a working knowledge of the Bible. These days, I struggle to find many Christians who have even read the Bible cover to cover ONCE, let alone have a strong working knowledge of it's contents. I'm not talking about being able to quote a handful of favorite scriptures about a handful of favorite subjects, but a deep understanding of Scripture and its principals that one can draw from in everyday circumstances. I'm talking about a thorough enough understanding of scripture that one knows the proper Biblical response when the boss treats you unfairly, your dog bites the neighbor, and your computer is stolen. The Bible tells us what to do in all those circumstances, but not many people know what it says. Instead, they jump on Facebook to have themselves a very carnal rant.
2. Most people in the past read. A lot. And it wasn't fluff. They read Plato and Aristotle, they read Shakespeare and Voltaire. They read John Locke and David Hume. They read in English, Latin, French and German. Most adults today haven't actually read even a light and fluffy book since the last one they were assigned in high school or college. Here's a truth: Deep reading leads to deep thinking. Deep thinking leads to the expression of deep thought. AKA, not a rant.
So that's when ProjectTHINK was conceived - but more on that in a minute. First:
Let's Talk About Books.
There is a large portion of the body of Christ who hold the idea that all novels are bad and the only reading you should ever do is the Bible and "Spiritual" books. It is so prevalent that I used to feel guilty for reading anything that didn't fall into that category, even when I was reading in preparation to teach school.
But then I realized two things:
1. Those people who were too holy to read Dickens or Austen because those books weren't spiritual enough would sometimes spend hours on social media or watching TV and movies. Ahem. The reading they're doing on social media is largely fiction, folks, and it isn't even good fiction. And the movies aren't exactly mind-renewing Truth, either. So these high-minded, pseudo-spiritual people aren't even living by their own standards. (If you truly only read the Bible, and never read anything else, then I'm not talking about you. But if you are reading this post, er... this is social media, not the Bible. In case you were confused.)
2. A lot of those people are pretty narrow-minded thinkers and can often be judgmental. Sometimes, they lack the ability to see the holes in their own theories and can't see it when even they can't live up to their own theories (see point 1). They have fed so heavily on only one sort of food until they have become malnourished in other areas. They no longer have balance.
We are spirit, mind and body (a whole other post). Obviously, as Christians, we must put our spiritual development first, but that doesn't mean we utterly neglect our mental development. Many of these super-spiritual people will spend a lot of time doing things to take care of their bodies in the name of "taking care of the temple". They sometimes get very militant about their diet or their exercise routine. Neither of those things are particularly "spiritual", but somehow that doesn't get the bad rap that developing the mind does. Hmmm... Do I smell an inconsistency?
That doesn't mean I think you should read anything and everything. All books are NOT created equal. Romance novels (and other books of that fluffy ilk) are flesh-feeding, mind-numbing rot. I don't buy into the ideology that any book is okay as long as it gets you (or your kids, for that matter) reading. Be careful what you feed on. Even so, there are some who think ALL fiction is bad. A well-written, classic novel or one of the so called Great Books can have value -- especially when it comes to training yourself to think deeply, if your interpretation of it lines up with the Word of God.
Of the people I have met over the years that actually do anything "intellectual," there is something that often comes with it. Pride. God warned us of this.
Knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1) -- it is pride/ego motivated.
Instead, we should study to be simple -- this is love motivated. When you study with the purpose of understanding others and being able to state your beliefs quietly and peaceably, you have come a long way from the knee-jerk rant response, and have come much closer to a compassion response.
We can't grow our minds with pride as a motivator if we expect any real good to come of it. We must have love as our motivator. The idea is to grow our spirits and our minds so that we are a greater blessing, not so that we can look down on others from our lofty place.
I want to make sure I am a person who can understand the perspective of those I don't agree with. I believe that understanding is a key to compassion. Compassion is something Jesus requires of us (I said compassion, not agreement or capitulation). Understanding and compassion for those with whom we do not agree is sadly absent from the average Facebook rant or any other rant, for that matter. Reading classic literature is a wonderful way to expose ourselves to different modes of thought, different perspectives and different approaches to life. Done well, reading the right books expands us and helps us empathize with others. It takes us from a shallow way of thinking to one that runs far deeper.
Of course, the Bible is the greatest book because it is filled with Truth. We can read the Bible and safely change our perspective to line up with the Truths we read there. We can't do that with other books, no matter how well written or important they are. We can glean things from each of them, however. It's what is often called "eating the hay and spitting the sticks" because even a cow has enough sense to spit out the debris when it eats hay.
Each month, I will be reading deeply in a variety of different categories. This reading will be outside of the reading I do for ministry or homeschool. This reading is for PERSONAL growth, not for the growth of others. I don't want to put a lot of pressure on myself, as my life tends to require great flexibility, so I will evaluate my list each month and make necessary adjustments. I will include the Bible, books for spiritual growth, books for personal growth in areas I have tended to avoid (like small talk and investing -- two areas I find intimidating), and timeless classic literature that I have yet to read.
Some genres I have already read extensively, like 18th & 19th century British literature. I've read books like Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, and Beowulf more than once, so they won't be repeated for this project. Other things, like Shakespeare's King Lear and Aristotle's writings, I have read, but honestly, it has been so long that I really don't remember them. They may well end up on my list, even though I could technically check them off. They can't be all that brain expanding if I don't even remember them.
On that note, some books that are on so many "reading lists" I have already read and don't plan to ever darken the doors of my brain with again, thank you very much. Like Kafka's Metamorphosis. Yuck. Well written. Definitely made me think. But yuck. If you want to crawl into the mind of a self-absorbed individual as they go stark raving mad, you'll love it. I don't recommend it. (I usually read an over-view before I decide to tackle a book, but that one was on one of my kids high school reading lists. Needless to say, I did not assign the book.) Be careful out there. It's a dangerous business going out your door. Or something like that.
If you are thinking about doing something like this yourself, I would encourage you to make your book list to fit your needs, rather than following mine. What is right for you to read this year will be very different.
If you haven't been doing much independent reading, I wouldn't suggest starting with Homer or Plato. Try some Jane Austen instead. And if you've been reading fluff rather than deeper books, you are going to need to train your brain to do a little heavier work. It won't like it at first. Give it time and don't try to build Rome in a day. It gets easier.
Disclaimer: My reading list is intended for ME, based on what I have previously read (I have been a voracious reader my entire life), and what I have avoided, neglected or failed to understand. Books on this list do not have my seal of approval. I haven't read them yet -- that's why they are on the list -- so I can't comment their appropriateness. Proceed at your own risk. This is not intended to be a booklist for children (although I may act like a child, I am technically a middle-aged woman). While I give my kids lots of classic literature to read, I am careful about the content. I don't follow a recommended booklist for them. I match the books to the needs and abilities of each child. I make sure they know how to glean the good and properly interpret the rest. I also pre-read nearly every single book they read (it's a good thing I'm a fast reader or I would never keep up with the reading done by 4 kids.). This is just me telling you what I am doing, and hopefully inspiring you to do a little deep thinking yourself.
Next time, January's ProjectTHINK Book List.
Have a great day!
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