How to Think

When I'm in the car I love to listen to audio books. It makes me feel productive on my commute or whenever I'm out and about. While it's not great for every type of book, it has enabled me to 'read' scores of books that I otherwise would not have been able to.

One of the best books I recently finished was Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs' new (and topical) book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. Much of the news we read and watch, the soundbites our political leaders spout, the memes on our social media feeds, and the tense political conversations around extended family Thanksgiving tables looks a lot like thinking, but it is actually something else.

Jacobs wants to help us do the hard work of thinking. It may well be some of the hardest work we ever do. Thinking can cost you your job, your community, even your life. But in this post I'd like to highlight something else.

The book concludes with his helpful "The Thinking Person's Checklist." I'm going to share this checklist with you (or at least the altered-for-brevity version I took down in my notes). Most of these items will make a lot more sense if you go ahead and read the book for yourself, but one particular phrase needs special attention. Jacobs stole the phrase 'Inner Ring' from a lecture CS Lewis gave at King's College, London in 1944. Actually, while you're taking my reading suggestions, go ahead and check out that Lewis lecture too. 

And now, "The Thinking Person's Checklist":

1. When faced with provocation to respond to what someone said, give it five minutes.
2. Value learning over debating. Don’t talk for victory.
3. Avoid the people who fan flames.
4. You don’t have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness.
5. If you do, you are not in a community, but an Inner Ring.
6. Gravitate toward people who value real community and can handle disagreement.
7. Seek out the best people you disagree with. Listen to them carefully and think it over.
8. Patiently assess your own repugnances.
9. Sometimes the ick factor is telling, sometimes it’s a distraction from what matters.
10. Beware the power of metaphor and myth.
11. Try to describe other people’s positions in the same words they use.
12. Be brave.
— Alan Jacobs, "The Thinking Person's Checklist"