Thought is a practice, an art, and a skill. It is a fundamental activity of the mind that allows us to maneuver in the world we find ourselves bound to for a time. A world that necessitates the use of tools, the leveraging of relationships, and the building of systems, physical and nonphysical, to survive and make the best of our existence. Thinking is the mechanism used to process information received and transform that information into wisdom and knowledge that, when rightly applied, can bring great benefit to humanity. Thought, evolved, can birth into the intriguing study of ideologies that shape our relationship to the world known as philosophy.
Philosophy is deep in its reach and broad in its range, covering everything from how a government should be run to how an individual conducts her own life. Every culture, ethnic group, and society are shaped by philosophies. They are mighty instruments that can separate groups of people in the battle of influence, power, and control over the planet that has ensued for millennia, or they can bind people together in pursuit of a more perfect civilization. Consider a quote by the great poet, activist, and philosopher, in her own right, Maya Angelou:
We need joy as we need air. We need love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.
In this artful revelation, she ties together the physical, emotional, and social requirements we have for survival, and not only do we need them individually, we need them collectively. She highlights the highly connective nature of our existence on earth, and underscores how we are incentivized to work together as our survival depends on it. This quote constitutes philosophical thought in that it guides one to consider a way of life, one of seeking to connect and share as opposed to other guiding philosophies that promote personal gain and putting oneself above all others.
Often, when philosophy comes to mind, visions of old, bearded men of European decent immediately conjure in our mind’s eye. Do the names Aristotle and Plato ring a bell? Or, we may think of a college professor whose job it is to inspire the minds of the youths who traipse the school grounds by teaching them the thoughts of the dead bearded men we envision. One may also think that being a philosopher means spending countless hours reading books and sitting around thinking for years on end; who has the time for that in today’s demanding home care and work climate? It may be hard to see one’s own self in the role of philosopher, able to cultivate fresh ideas that can impact your life and society at large, but as someone who lives in the world and whose actions affect the world, you too can take on this role.
The world is in a rapid state of flux and is evolving. We as a world are facing problems that we have never faced before and seek solutions for problems that have been in existence for forever. We are in need of fresh ideas that can be put into practice and fresh frameworks to experiment with to bring about solutions. Old value systems are breaking down and do not fully serve us in reaching our dreams and full potential. Our mind is the seat of perceived satisfaction, and many of us are no longer satisfied by the usual aim of getting a job, raising a family, owning a house, managing a healthy retirement, and spending our last years in travel. Those are great goals for many, but for countless others, this misses the mark. Many have a deep desire to make an impact and to make a bigger mark on the world. We desire to impact the realms of social justice, climate change, and to play a role in restructuring the systems that rule us but no longer reach out to us. We desire to inspire hope and to manifest a world that we all can be proud to share. Getting there is not as simple as thinking and it will come to pass, but thought starts the process. Different thought brings new ideas which affects a belief system. An inspired belief system results in changed attitudes and an outflow of action inline with new beliefs. Overtime and landscape, a new reality begins to take shape, but it all starts on a personal level.
Taking a reflective eye at our own life experiences is a good way to begin developing the philosophical muscle. Close, critical inspection of what we have experienced at school, at work, and while interacting with family, friends, strangers, and acquaintances can help us draw out conclusions on what works in bringing about beneficial life outcomes. We can in essence begin to demystify and harness the power of insight. These insights, once extracted, can be developed into a framework through which actions can be funneled to bring about a desired effect. We can also explore the writings of those who have come before us to expose ourselves to a broader realm of thought and experience. We may not always agree with what we find, but we will become aware of what others subscribe to and model their lives and institutions after. This also enables us to understand multiple view points and to better develop our own positions. It is not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. There are many philosophies in practice today that have stood the test of time and serve their purpose well, but as highly individual beings, the framework of the philosophies can be adjusted to fit our particular needs.
Applying a set of newly developed or adopted philosophies to your life can result in changes that you did not believe you were capable of. It could be a new way of dealing with anger found among the Stoics or a way to lighten the experience of suffering found in the Buddhist teachings. Having experienced how a new way of thinking can have such a personal impact, you may want to share with those around you. You may wish to bring elements of a new philosophy to the classroom, your job, or a newly formed organization to make a greater impact. This may include incorporating the ideas into a set of classroom rules, a method of teaching, guiding principles for a work team, or core values of a non-profit organization.
The art of thinking is largely being lost, and more effort is needed to resurrect the skill and make it mainstream. There is so much information readily available to us; we are being spoon fed and do not develop a healthy ambition for independent thought. We are content to find the answer to all of our problems through an internet search engine, not taking the time out for much needed self reflection. Our daily conversations lack the commentary needed for personal growth. We are content to follow established norms and practices without questioning them and seeking better alternatives. This has lead to a dearth in our societies’ philosophical development. The practice that keeps us relevant and progressing. We must begin to be more intentional about incorporating philosophical practice into our own lives and influencing others to take up this practice as well. Doing so would lead to more informed discussions and intentional collaborations that could lead to positive change. Imagine whole communities being inspired to take action on the matters that affect them most. It is possible.
The world is waiting on the next ideas to propel us forward in exploring societal frontiers. Ideas found somewhere in your experience. Will you answer the call?
– C. Ishi Ayetoro