Thoughtfulness is in short supply in our world of instant information and rapid reaction. One influential source shares a headline and suddenly it is everywhere, treated as fact. On closer examination, it may be a mere rumor or a political accusation, but the damage to civility and objectivity is done. We need a new pathway for our minds. In this essay, we will share further insights in a five-step journey toward thoughtfulness. I do not pretend to be the final word on this topic. Hopefully these ideas can assist us toward sanity and a better public square.
The first two steps shared last week include deciding ahead of time not to compromise our timeless moral and spiritual convictions. The second is learning to process our reactions and discover the sources of our feelings and thoughts. Here are three more insights that will help us mature:
The third step in this journey is pursuing good research on the subjects we are concerned about. While we have access to more information than ever, this does not mean we have more knowledge or wisdom. We must consider our sources carefully. Wikipedia must not be our starting or ending place. If the issues we are examining are hotly debated, we should look for the key sources used by both sides and read them carefully. If a particular group is claiming the data is on their side, we can read their supporting studies closely, evaluating the methods and alert to small samples, ideological bias, and circular referencing (when experts quote each other back and forth and disregard dissent). Watch language carefully, especially how questions are asked, the breadth of the surveys, and the depth of historical references. I cannot guarantee that good research will always reinforce our intuitions. In fact, we will often end up with more questions! That is OK, if we are dedicated to the best proximate truth of a matter. We live in a world where individualism and subjectivity are triumphing over careful thinking, so we will feel like an outsider sometimes.
Our fourth step is counterintuitive in a world addicted to immediate information. We must ponder and reflect on the information and issues before proclaiming our ideas publicly. Taking this step allows us to reexamine issues, ask new questions, double-check our facts, and consider the implications of our findings. Again, I am not speaking about obvious virtue or vice, but the debatable, prudential issues that divide us unnecessarily. For example, discovering that toleration does not mean agreement or celebration is liberating. We can have deep differences with our neighbors and still work together for common concerns. Some ideological extremists declare that anything less than celebration is intolerance, even violence. I will never celebrate drag queens reading stories to children. If adults want to dress up and entertain other adults away from vulnerable children, that is a tolerated activity of a pluralistic society. Deep reflection on what we teach children is needed more than ever.
Our final step is presenting responses that build as much consensus as possible. We must not merely retweet our favorite reactions. We must offer the world much more: wisdom arising from reverence before God and respect for other people. On public education, we must offer solutions that uplift everyone and offer our children the best future. People of all faiths or none have an equal concern for the next generation. For really contentious issues, we must aim as reducing incendiary rhetoric and forging alliances leading to principled compromises. We can improve environmental policies without impoverishing the working class. We can reform immigration and welcome millions legally, while securing borders.
“OK, Charlie. This sounds great. But some folks will not debate and discuss or even consider compromise. What do we do then?”
Pray. Yes, really pray for the most contentious and subjective folks to discover God’s grace and the humility that flows from a divine encounter. Plead for God’s mercy and stand firm ready for peacemaking.
Will you join me on this journey? I have to practice these steps almost daily. They keep my heart tender, my head clear, and my hands ready to serve.