Do-it-yourself is hotter than ever. The results of one poll show that the millennial generation is more willing than their parents to acquire new skills in order to be self-reliant and to save money. Pinterest is wildly popular, and splendiferous images of do-it-yourselfers’ handiwork tempt the eye like a plate of French petit-fours. Millennials seem to want to learn everything from cooking and sewing to beekeeping and survival skills.
I admire that. In the 1970’s, I was part of the back-to-the-land movement. I baked bread in a wood oven, sewed dolls on a treadle sewing machine, collected wild plants for medicine, gardened, canned and practiced all manner of Yankee ingenuity. At one time you probably could have crowned me Queen of Do-it-Yourself, except I knew other talented and multi-skilled people who were just as worthy of the title.
I am pleased to see young people gravitate back to traditional skills that enable them to be more independent and self-reliant, and I would hate for all of this valuable knowledge to be lost. The one skill, however, that I hope Millennials remember to cultivate is the ability to think for themselves. That is the most important survival skill of all.
Below are six ways to help you increase self-reliance by thinking for yourself.
1. Take Responsibility for Thinking for Yourself
This sounds elemental, doesn’t it? You would be surprised, though, at the number of people who don’t think that thinking for ourselves is a good idea. There is a growing trend in education, business and government for learning and thinking in groups and teams. As we’ve all been told, “there’s no I in team.” Except that there is. I can stand for individual,and there are as many individuals in a team as there are members.
Some educators want to retrain human beings so that they don’t think independently, and so that they can’t be sure of the results of their own thinking. In other words, if other people in your group think something is true, and you don’t, you must accept the group’s answer, because who are you to think you know the answer better than the majority? These people tell us our minds are limited, therefore, we must constantly check our opinions against those of our peers.
Here’s something to think about: Henrik Ibsen, the writer, said that the majority is nearly always wrong. In fact, in The Political Imagination in Literature, a textbook by Philip Green and Michael Walzer, an excerpt from Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the people, is used as a sample of literature demonstrating the tyranny of the majority.
There is now strong pressure to engage in collaborative decision-making, cooperative group learning and consensus thinking. The latter is thinking that is done in groups. Now, it is fine to cooperate with other people and try to find viable solutions to problems. I have no issue with that. It can even be fun to work in cooperative groups. There are some pitfalls to thinking only in groups, however. I will just touch on three of those here.
First of all, when we are thinking and working in groups, there are many unstated assumptions at work. Consensus thinking tries to limit any debate that may cause conflict. What this means is that the group often has unfounded confidence in their conclusions, and hence in their decisions. Oftentimes, people don’t want to be considered troublemakers or confrontational, so they don’t challenge the assumptions.
Second, who is taking responsibility for the consequences of group decisions? People tend to think that the group shares responsibility. Unfortunately, I have observed that shared responsibility usually means that no one is taking responsibility. Why? Because only an individual person has a conscience and a mind. Unfortunate consequences have followed from group decisions due to the fact that every member of a group deferred to the group, rather than to their own conscience and logic. These mistaken decisions have resulted in consequences ranging from the expensive to the horrifying.
Kendra Cherry discusses a similar phenomenon called Diffusion of Responsibility. She discusses Diffusion of Responsibility as an explanation for bystander effect, a phenomenon in which the greater the numbers of people present at a crisis, the less likely people are to help an individual in distress, as has happened in cases of some public murders and rapes. Cherry quotes Dr. Alex Lickerman’s words in an article for Psychology Today: “Knowing that others heard the same scream… powerfully tempts us to assume someone else has taken responsibility for doing what needs to be done.”
I have seen a very similar mindset take place in committees and groups, especially if members feel they must defer to experts or those in authority, or if the group has any kind of a bureaucratic structure.
My final comment on group thinking will center on the saying, it takes a village to raise a child. Now we all hope teachers, pastors and citizens will be supportive of raising children, and we can agree that these supportive actions and attitudes make the job of raising a happy child easier, but this saying is being extrapolated by some to say that parents may not have the final decision or authority over their children’s fate, but must defer to a network of state-paid experts. In other words, the community must be in charge of rearing children because children belong to the community, and not to their parents.
Let’s just ask ourselves one revealing question: Who will grieve more if your child grows up without morals and does something horrible to another person, or if the child doesn’t have a good work ethic and can’t get a job? Will a psychologist, a social worker, a teacher or the village grieve for your child in the depths of their soul, or will it be you who cares the most?
We can defer to a panoply of experts, but when things go wrong, it’s not their child, is it? When children are removed from parental homes (even where truly necessary) these children often fall into the hands of public officials who have only a perfunctory interest in the child’s welfare. Seeking out advice is good, but in the final analysis, parents must think for themselves, having taken all advice under consideration.
Occasionally, I receive emails from a person who has the following statement at the end of every email: “Think for yourself. Never do anything recommended by the Committee or its appointed officials that is contrary to your judgment or conscience.”
Read widely, deeply and insatiably. Indulge your curiosity. Mine bibliographies at the back of your books so you can follow a vein of knowledge to the mother lode.
Reading articles on the Internet is good, but read entire books when you can. A book allows the writer ample time to make a case and support it with detailed evidence. Digital information helps us broaden our knowledge, but books help us deepen it.
Also, there is growing evidence that information on the Internet is being controlled. The first hint of this is that many videos, web pages and articles have gone missing lately. Internet service providers are reporting that there are increasing demands from governments (including the U.S.) to remove information from the Web.
In addition, Google has recently announced it may be reworking its algorithms so that Google ranks articles that agree with truth on the top page of search results—that is truth according to Google. In other words, if Google agrees with a writer’s opinion, that article may be on the first page of search results. If a writer’s view of truth does not agree with truth as Google sees it, that writer’s article could end up on page 25. Right now, articles and sites are ranked according to numbers of readers.
Hardbound books are around for years, and can be revisited. The details they afford us give us a more complete framework from which to think and make decisions.
People who read are able to carry on a mental conversation, or interior dialogue, with past brilliant thinkers and, thereby, discipline their own minds. In the novel, Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury depicts a society in which reading is illegal. Consequently, members of Bradbury’s imaginary society are incapable of thinking in terms of analogy, metaphor or parable–all literary devices that have allowed writers to communicate wisdom and information from one generation to the next for thousands of years. Due to societal illiteracy, the characters’ minds have grown flabby, and their thinking is superficial. When the protagonist of the novel tries to contemplate the meaning of a written parable, the meaning of the parable is like sand and his mind is like a sieve through which the sand falls. He has become incapable of comprehending meaning from text.
3. Have Humility
My generation was misled by flattery. We were told that we were smarter than our parents and grandparents. We were the hope of the world and would usher in a new era of peace and love. We were regaled with insipid song lyrics such as these: It’s a new generation / with a new explanation / Uh-huh / people in motion. Sadly, our explanation was wrong and many people’s lives were destroyed because they acted on erroneous clap-trap.
An important thing to remember is that a person who is vulnerable to flattery is vulnerable to deception. Ancient politicians knew this truth and often resorted to flattery as a means to disarm enemies. This leads me to the next tip.
4. Make Peace With the Generations Who Have Gone Before You
By believing that we are wiser than past generations, we often allow ourselves to be cut off from our own history and a wealth of ancient wisdom and knowledge.
Social innovators are all too eager to have us look on the past with contempt. We are more likely to accept their way of thinking if we do. Thinking we are savvy and modern, we become vulnerable to manipulation because we are cut off from tried and true ways of thinking, and can only go on untested theories, usually supplied to us by social innovators.
Remember the biblical injunction to honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land God gives you. Even if parents are sometimes not what we could hope, there is still much life-preserving wisdom they have to pass on. Even if, as in some cases, parents’ lives are like a destroyed city, we must collect the good stones from the rubble and build our lives on those.
In this way, we will experience the cultural continuity that flows through the generations from the foundations of the earth. The world will make more sense to us, and we will have greater stability.
5. Decide by Which Standards You Will Judge
Part of maturing is to choose the standards by which we think, judge and make decisions. These are the principles by which we plumb the building of our lives.
If your identity is in a community and you seek peace and unity with that community, and you are always willing to compromise for that peace and unity, you may not be thinking for yourself. If you are trying to conform to an evolving group consciousness, you are definitely not thinking for yourself.
I will not tell you which set of standards to adopt, but I will share that those of Christianity are the standards by which I have built my house. I have never been sorry for that choice.
6. Finally, Love Truth
Truth is worth everything you have, and it will almost certainly cost you. Pursue Truth singlemindedly and go where it will take you. It may take you to places you did not want to go, but also to wondrous places that you only dreamed of.
Avoid complacency, because it is like the hemlock that Socrates drank. Its effects start at the feet, numbing them, and then work their way up to your heart, until you succumb to sleep.