I recently finished Alan Jacobs’s little book How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. I kept a notebook by my side as I read, jotting down notes as I worked through it. When I finished, I noticed that I basically had eight succinct statements that might help me (and others) learn to how to think better. If nothing else, they help us become more aware of our flaws as thinkers.
Below I list eight theses, followed by a few brief comments:
- Thinking is dangerous business. It can make us uncomfortable in at least two ways: i) by causing us to question deeply held beliefs and ii) by disrupting our relationships (17). As Jacobs writes later, we have emotional investments in thinking the way we do (76).
- No one thinks for him- or herself, but with other people (37). One of the cries of the Enlightenment was sapere aude!—dare to think! Despite this rallying cry of the Enlightenment, Jacobs reminds readers that thinking is never an individual event, but a social and communal enterprise. We think in community with others and what others in our sphere of influence believe affects us. Further, we crave the approval of those we admire (20). Be not deceived: What people around us believe influences us.
- No one lives by logic alone. Our feelings influence us as well. No one is completely “rational” (44-47). As Jacobs notes, “Learning to feel as we should is enormously helpful for learning to think as we should” (87).
- As thinkers, we must trust those with whom we think or we’re not likely to embrace their views (54). To put the matter bluntly, we’re not likely to embrace the views of someone we find annoying.
- Technology and social media have not improved our communication skills but made them worse. This reality notwithstanding, as Christians we must regard those with whom we interact online as our neighbors, worthy of love and respect (82-83).
- Learning to think well involves cultivating a disposition of humility (87). A humble person doesn’t overstate his or her case, but rather exercises restraint. Furthermore, humility leads one to be measured in his words, assertions, and responses. They’re not out to settle scores.
- In discussions or debates, don’t dehumanize your interlocutor (98). I would add: Don’t reduce people to political causes!
- Before you critique another person’s views, make sure you can accurately summarize their position to their satisfaction. In fact, go one step further: Sit down and have a conversation with him so you can empathize with him.