Often people don’t think, instead, they try their best to fit in and feel like the people around them. But this isn’t often about thinking, instead, it is about passing on other people’s ready-made ideas.
Only you know what you want and what will be best for you. If you don’t think for yourself, people will take advantage of you and get you to work towards their goals rather than yours. Also, with so much misinformation out there, you need to be able to think for yourself to sort out the good from the bad.
An example of people not thinking for themselves
The first example took place at work; a couple of people were talking about Shopify. If you don’t know, Shopify is one of the biggest online store building websites. You pay them some money, and they will help you set up a store where you can sell your stuff.
While on the topic, someone said, “There was this article about how Breitbart was using Shopify. People wanted the store to be shut down. But the CEO of Shopify said, ‘freedom of speech’ and did nothing about it.”
I replied, “That is great news; at least someone is standing up to this arbitrary censorship.”
Everyone in the room looked at me like I was crazy and some alt-right nut job. For context, I work in a super liberal workplace.
Sensing the tension, I asked, “Have any of you ever been to the Breitbart?” Nobody had any response; they were all silent; because none of them had ever been to the site. All they knew was that they had heard it was terrible from someone on the internet.
Before you cancel me, please take a moment to hear me out. I’m not claiming Breitbart is a good news source or even something more than a conservative echo chamber. But I have been to the website, and it wasn’t the worst thing I have ever seen. I don’t share the site’s opinions, but I also don’t believe they are so horrible that they should be banned from life.
It is vital to think for ourselves because we can’t always trust that other people are being honest.
I’m sure the people who disagree with Breitbart have their reasons. But if you want the truth, you need to check it out yourself. You can’t always rely on other people to always tell the truth because they have a bias.
We Don’t Need Internet Police
Some people may disagree and believe we should police the internet. But that is dangerous because it could lead to a time where the ideas you believe in are the ones that get banned. Instead, if you don’t like something, you don’t consume it or give it money. But don’t forcibly take it away from the people who do like it.
I know the previous paragraph could become a slippery slope, so let’s say that some things should be censored, but Breitbart isn’t one of them. If anything, Breitbart may be stupid, but there is plenty of dumb stuff on the internet.
It isn’t up to me to decide what is suitable for someone else.
We may disagree with other people’s opinions, but we shouldn’t censor what we disagree with. Instead, we should fight back with better ideas.
In another conversation, we were talking about the situation in Hong Kong. My coworker said that he had read something that said the USA was involved. I asked him if he thought that was true, he said: “I didn’t think so; it came from an alt-right website.” I asked, “What is an alt-right website?” But he didn’t have an answer.
No doubt, Hong Kong is a complicated situation, so knowing the truth of that matter is almost impossible. But does information from an alternative source make it wrong? No, I suspect that he wasn’t even on an alt-right website. Instead, it was non-mainstream news. I suspect this because he said, “The USA thing couldn’t be true because I couldn’t find it on the news.”
When it comes to complicated issues, it’s essential to look to other sources and see what they have to say.
But if you want the truth, it is important to think for yourself because good judgment means going with the facts, not sensationalism.
The News Tells Us How To Think
This statement will be controversial, but it gets to the heart of the issue. People are willing to accept ideas from sources they trust, even if the facts and reality don’t line up.
There are many reliable and useful sources of information out there. But at the same time, they aren’t always right, they can be wrong about the facts, and as organizations, they may have biases.
I don’t want to dive into the bias too much, as there are many topics the media won’t or can’t talk about for whatever reason.
But when we rely on the mainstream media for our ideas, there will always be a limit on what they are willing to talk about and cover.
If you wonder why is it important to think for yourself, the answer is simple, you can’t always trust the media. If an organization has a bias or can’t talk about specific topics, then you can’t rely on them for the truth about those topics. If you can’t trust someone else, you need to look at the evidence and think for yourself.
The Overton Window
The Overton window is the range of topics that are acceptable to the general public. Things outside the Overton window tend to make people uncomfortable, so we often don’t hear about them on the news.
The other side of this is that some sources on the internet ignore the Overton window. This means that they are not always limited in what they can cover. Some people will say that some information on the internet is too extreme; that may be the case sometimes, but not always.
The Overton window sets what people on the news can talk about, but it also limits what they talk about.
In a way, it prevents conversations about topics that are outside of what’s normal. But some would argue that those topics are what matters most.
In our current political climate, ideas outside the Overton window are often labelled fake news. The problem is that there are lots of valid opinions, ideas, and observations that you won’t find on the TV news.
If you want to know why is it important to think for yourself, you need to think about what you aren’t supposed to talk about.
If something is so terrible you aren’t supposed to think about it, you should think about why it is so bad. Sometimes there is no basis for what we believe; other times, there is, but you won’t know unless you think about it.
Who Talking Doesn’t Matter, What is Said Does
In the past, I’ve had conversations with coworkers about Jordon Peterson. Most people tell me he is harmful or dangerous, while others have more neutral opinions. But almost always, when someone has a strong negative sentiment, they have never heard him speak or spent any time reading his books.
Almost always, these people have read someone else’s opinion about him. My first response to these people is always, “You should watch some of his videos and see what you think.”
The people I’ve had these interactions with were all well educated and generally successful people.
Very few people think for themselves about topics, yet many have strong opinions.
In all these cases, the people relied on others’ options, which is acceptable in some cases. But if you are going to hold a strong opinion about something, it is better to go to the source, read it and think about it.
By no means am I saying you can’t trust ‘reliable’ sources. Instead, I’m suggesting we should be open to seeing things for ourselves and then making judgments after thinking about them.
Ideas aren’t right or wrong because of who says them; instead, they are right or wrong based on the facts.
Without Bad Ideas, There Are No Good Ideas
Indeed some ideas are bad, but if you’ve not heard those ideas, then you don’t know how bad they are. I’m not saying you should seek out bad ideas; instead, if you aren’t interested in ideas, ignore them.
But if you are interested in a topic, you need to look at both sides; you can’t just ignore half of the argument and be confident in your opinion.
The ‘alt-right’ is controversial, and Jordan Peterson is sometimes labelled a member. But anyone who has taken 5 minutes to listen to what Jordan Peterson thinks will realize he is just a conservative.
That said, Conservatism isn’t bad; a wide range of perspectives is the best approach to any question or topic. We shouldn’t disregard ideas simply because of the labels someone else has put on them.
It is our responsibility to decide for ourselves after looking at all of the evidence.
Simultaneously, if we cut out all the ideas we disagree with, then we no longer have a sense of reference. Why is it important to think for yourself? Because if you don’t, you will lose touch with right and wrong, true and false.
If you always rely on ready-made ideas, there will be no depth to your opinions.
It is Important To Think For Yourself
There are many opinions these days, and just as many people tell us how to think about them. On top of this, the Overton window is narrowing, and there are fewer topics open to debate.
This means the range of topics we can talk about is also getting smaller. We can learn to combat this problem by being careful not to judge too quickly.
Instead of jumping to conclusions based on other people’s labels, dig deeper and think for yourself.
The truth is, it is better to think for yourselves and come up with the best option for you. Let other people do the same thing, and everyone will get what they want.
In the long run, it is a bad idea to ban ideas we dislike. Because the tides can turn, and our opinions may be labelled, the ones that need to be banned.
The best way to protect yourself from a narrow mind is to think for yourself.
You are always the best judge of what is best for you. So have confidence in yourself, and rely on your judgment. Only you know what is best for yourself.
Do you think for yourself? If so, what are you doing on a daily basis to challenge your preconceived notations?