Perhaps you wondered what your grade school teacher meant when she’d turn around to the class and say, “Okay, children, let’s put our thinking caps on.”
Was there ever really something known as a thinking cap?
According to some sources the answer is yes. And no.
The web site www.phrases.org suggests there may be some reality to the notion that people wore “thinking caps.”
In the 1700s there was a three-pointed head gadget called a ‘considering cap.’ The hat bore phrases such as “I MAY BE WRONG” and “I’LL CONSIDER OF IT.”
Guess they weren’t trying to nail the problem down too quickly. The 1700s may have been a period of great enlightenment, but it doesn’t seem like the “thinking cap” idea ever really caught on beyond a dumb-looking three-pointer with graffiti on it.
So why does the timeworn phrase “Put on your thinking cap” sometimes still pop up in popular language? How did it survive in a post-modern era full of cynicism and sarcasm? Modern day “thinking caps” might feature statements like “Yeah Right” or “Owned by No One.” Paris Hilton’s Thinking Cap might say, “That’s hot,” while Rush Limbaugh’s might say “Forget the Facts.” The whole notion of thought process has been distilled to statements about personal philosophy and ideology in the age of sound bytes. When “That’s what I’m talking about” and “Let me say this” are considered signs of deep intellect, real thinking caps must be in short supply.
Empty heads actually seem to be something of a prized commodity these days. Why go to the trouble of thinking about something if you can look it up and get your answer on Google? Not that doing some research is bad, but even doing the research seems like too much trouble for some people. We live in a culture that doesn’t have the time or the attention span to form considered opinions. Either Twitter is demanding you follow some fool who fancies themselves important or your latest update is due on Facebook. There’s really no time to actually think about what you are doing. The thinking caps have been blown off our collective heads.
Or we’re simply too vain. Putting on your thinking cap might mess up your perfect (or calculatedly imperfect) hair.
We have become so dependent on media and screens to deliver information, we stare into a collective void of sorts. There’s no time to make sense of it now and no energy left to make sense of it later. No wonder newspapers are suffering. Broadcast television too. Even cable TV with 500 channels to surf can’t hold the attention of the terminally bored consumer. With all this information to consider and no time to consider it, the whole world takes on a feeling of stale salad or dried out bread. Bits of jam on the counter constitute art.
Even at church… thinking caps seem to have gone way out of fashion. Congregations buy into short attention span theater and mega churches. I recently asked a supposedly faithful congregant what they made of arguments about faith and politics in the recent election and they told me, “I don’t know. I don’t like to think that much about faith. I just believe what I believe.”
Well, crap, I thought to myself. There goes the neighborhood. If people aren’t even willing to think a little about what they believe, there’s no convincing them to put on their thinking caps for any purpose under the sun.
That just isn’t healthy.
So we need a few tools to construct a “post-modern thinking cap.” If you want to think clearly these days and weigh the information before you, here are 5 ways to help you think clearly about your world.
1. Think about the “why” as well as the “what”.
Information is almost always published for a reason. As much as 60% of the so-called “news” we read has been placed in the media by organizations seeking to get the word out about what they want you to think; about their product, their people or their politics. Asking “why” you’re reading or hearing something helps you gain objectivity. The rule even applies in places like your church, at work. Everywhere you go, ask the “why” question.
2. Don’t just rely on habit to get you through a thinking problem.
Everyone falls victim to thinking like they always do. Sometimes our minds choose the easiest course to solving a problem. But that does not mean our brains are always doing what’s good for us. Getting by in a difficult and complex world can be tough, but if you question your habits of mind you may find new solutions to issues on relationships, work and business.
3. Set time aside to think about whatever you want.
There are plenty of information channels willing to fill your brain with whatever they want you to hear. That is why you need to get somewhere and relax. Unplug. Stare at a candle. Walk in the woods. Let something other than your normal information channels (which are usually overflowing, or worse yet, plugged) take over your mind. Then you can really think.
4. Really listen. And dump the noise.
Thinking is almost always stimulated by new information. Thinking is almost always interrupted by intense or intrusive noise. That is why it pays to tune out distractions and really listen. To conversation with a friend. To music that does not block your brain waves with lyrics or rhythms that prevent you from thinking on your own. We live in a media world trying desperately to get us to consume and keep us from thinking. Turn it all off. The radio. iPods. Cell phones. You name it. Turn it off and move through your life without all that noise. Look around. Let your brain function.
5. Think about something other than yourself.
Finding ways to think about the concerns and welfare of others is a remarkably effective way to get out of old thinking habits. The major religions (and the sage figures who founded them) all encourage us to think about the bigger world. Interestingly, this is something religion has in common with secular humanists, agnostics and atheists. The brightest minds always think outside themselves. That’s how Buckminster Fuller came up with the geodesic dome, by trying to come up with something that would really benefit the world. And Other people. Nature. Infinity. Go ahead, try it. The first few times your brain may shut down because the “big” issues are hard to think about. But if you pull away from self-absorption and give your mind over to the world around you, there are some pretty healthy brain waves that await. You might find tolerance. Love. Community. Hope. You might find fears too, and worries. But you can write them down and think about them if need be. Then you’re on your way to some really healthy thinking. Who knows, you might change the world!
There is your 5-pointed thinking cap for the post-modern age. Hope it fits.