Who Does Your Thinking?

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For February 13 weekender, 2016

Who Does Your Thinking?

David W. Hegg

As we plunge deeper and deeper into the information culture it is clear many want to do our thinking for us. Issues swirl around us, and each news cycle brings yet another bombast that demands both our attention and our verdict. And if we’re not careful about what we take in, and how we understand it, we’ll find the media doing all our thinking for us.

The problem is two-fold. First, manipulating our beliefs has become a major industry today. Many advertisers, pundits, politicians, journalists, salespersons, and businesses big and small aim at creating certain beliefs in us. They do it through rapid-fire images and commentary, smooth presentations, sentimental vignettes, and too often, partial truths or straight out lies. And compounding the problem is the fact we now see this as the new normal. We have become almost completely duped into thinking outside influences can be counted on to tell us how and what to think about almost everything.

Second, as we become more and more responsive rather than proactive in analyzing the facts and forming our own opinions, as a nation we are losing our ability to think deeply. Like children addicted to sugar, our intellectual digestive tracts are becoming incapable of digesting the meat and potatoes of substantive fact and critical argument. We’re so used to having shallow simplistic tidbits of information thrown at us we no longer yearn for the breadth of information necessary to form a true opinion. We’re becoming intellectually soft and sentimentally obese on a diet of drive-thru information.

So, what are we to do? Simple. Change your information diet, and take responsibility for finding, knowing, and using whatever information is necessary to form beliefs that are intellectually reasonable, and provide a strong basis for ethical living.

Look for facts, not meaning: The greatest problem with most media outlets and marketing organizations is their goal is not news, but interpretation. They exist to form our opinions not merely inform our minds. They do it through a biased presentation of the facts that often goes unnoticed if we actually share their bias. But, while this may leave us cheering, it actually diminishes our opportunity to think for ourselves. My advice here is to also tap into those news outlets that don’t share your bias, as well as those that do the best job of actually presenting facts well. Gather the facts, recognize the various slants on them, and then do your own thinking to form your own opinions.

Refuse to eat junk food: Stay away from the “one-minute” news story in all its forms. Work hard to end your addiction to information outlets make you think everything can be reported and explained with some images accompanied by a paragraph of inane commentary. 

Form your own ethical grid first: Perhaps the greatest advice I can give is to form an ethical grid through which to strain everything you hear. If you were to peel back the various layers of your life and experience, what would you find at the core of your existence? What forms your true identity? What are the values that determine who you are, and how you intend to live your life? For me, these all flow out of my belief that God exists, has created me for his glory, and that when he is most glorified through my life, I’ll be most satisfied with it. When I listen to, or read about, the events of the day, I first make them pass through my grid as the first interpretive layer on the way to forming my own opinions on how these facts should form or adjust my beliefs. By so doing, I start the process of thinking for myself rather than let outside influences do my thinking for me.

By now the cleverest of you reading this have thought “so, if I shouldn’t let anyone else do my thinking for me, how come I’m reading this short opinion column?” Well done! I’ll be the first to admit you shouldn’t take what I write directly into your belief system. You should, however, use this column as a catalyst to jumpstart your own thinking on the subject at hand. After all, my intention isn’t to do you thinking for you, but only to get you to think deeply about your own thinking. It’s time we stopped letting others think for us, especially given the fact they’ve often led us away from the foundational values upon which great countries and righteous lives are built.