Why are some people apparently not thinking about much of anything?

That thought was on my mind one recent morning, leading me to spend some time thinking about thinking.

Thinking appears to be a risk for some because it is uncharted, unfamiliar territory.

Some think it is safer to home in on one source of information, or at most two, and then strike out to live life as interpreted by the people to whom you listen – and who mostly affirm what you already think and believe.

Yet, people with microphones don’t necessarily have competent, able and grounded thinking. Holding any position of power or influence doesn’t automatically make you a wise or thoughtful person.

So, what makes a competent thinker in our time? Here are a few characteristics.

1. Competent thinkers recognize and acknowledge that they don’t know enough about anything.

So, curiosity takes over and they set about to learn things. They learn about all kinds of stuff because one never knows what life will require.

2. They know that not all information is equal. In other words, some information is correct right now, some is time sensitive, and some will never be right.

We call the last one misinformation. Misinformation often plays to our desire to hear only what we want to hear about subjects about which we want to hear. It also fuels our fear of what we don’t know.

3. Competent thinkers realize that knowledge that may not be immediately applicable is still good to know, remember and, when necessary, update. Unlike computers, we will never run out of room for information.

4. They know how to weigh information to see what is true and what is false.

Most of us depend on true information routinely. At the supermarket, for example, you read the sell by date on the milk. It needs to be truthful. The green light in traffic needs to be truthful/accurate, not just a random color showing up at the same time in every direction.

When you go to the doctor, the nurse doesn’t ask, “How much would you like to weigh today?” That’s why they ask the patient to step up on the scale.

5. Competent thinkers are not intimidated by information that does not fit their ideas, dogmas or values.

Why? Because they understand that they don’t know everything about everything.

So, they are still listening, reading, learning, conversating and engaging the world, continually testing their current views and then making adjustments and refinements when necessary.

6. They recognize that much of the good information going around does not require anything of us.

To be informed requires no response, only a willingness to listen and learn. A man commented to me that a book I was leading our group through was “sort of fundamentalist.” I responded, “I no longer feel any obligation to believe or agree with anything I read or hear.”

7. Competent thinkers understand that information about things of which we disapprove does not require us to agree or change our position.

For example, if I learned of a polyamorous couple in my social circle or neighborhood, I don’t need to do anything. It is not a disease, it is not contagious and it does not infringe on my rights to live in a monogamous marriage.

8. They identify people who do know more than they know, recognizing that they can and should learn from them.

Frankly, I don’t look to religious leaders to interpret science. I don’t look to white people to tell the full story of racism in America. I don’t look to armchair doctors to guide my health care decisions. I look to people who are experts in their field and who have lived experience in these areas, trusting them to provide sound, fact-based and truthful information.

Truth is not a destination at which we eventually arrive. It is a journey which we trod every day. Only the foolish stop along the way and put up a tent.

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