Guest columnist Larry Brantley is a McKinney resident, and a professional actor, comic, and writer. His biggest claim to fame was as the voice of Wishbone, the title character from the award-winning PBS series. He came really close to winning an Emmy, and was once hugged by both Richard Simmons AND Mr. Rogers.
By Larry Brantley
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, you guys. About thinking. And what I think is, I haven’t been doing enough of it.
Let’s talk about what I don’t mean when I talk about thinking. I do not mean the process you go through in deciding whether to cook chicken for dinner, or throw the family in the mini-van (that you would secretly like to paint with flames on the side, but can’t) and go get burgers. I do not mean your musings over whether Alien vs Predator was cinematic genius, or the worst piece of celluloid nonsense to hit the theater since Friday The 13th Part 9: Freddy Kills The Cast of Riverdance. Technically those things are thinking, but they are on the back-end of what I’m talking about.
Cognition is an entire group of mental processes. Yeah, it includes decision-making (burgers for dinner, and Alien vs Predator sucked), but the higher-order stuff is attention, memory, producing (and understanding) language, reasoning, and problem solving. That is what I’m getting at when I talk about thinking, and I think I’m not doing enough of those things. I think most of us aren’t. And it’s starting to worry me.
Spoiler alert: I was the class clown in school. But I was also a thinker. In high school especially, I had two particular teachers who simply wouldn’t let me skate when it came to applying my mind to the hard work of thinking through a problem that was bigger than my little world. So I say thank you to Carol Dusebout, a history teacher at Conroe High School, who ran a class my senior year called Advanced Social Science Problems. She had me thinking through the problem of global terrorism in 1985, when a lot of my classmates were chiefly concerned about who they were going to make out with after the homecoming game. We learned statecraft in her class. I came out of that experience with a serious desire to pursue a career in foreign relations, until I discovered that I could make people laugh for money, and I didn’t need to go to college for that. Plus I was poor, and would rather make money than give it to somebody else. Like colleges.
The next thank you goes out to Anna Doyle. She was my English and Literature teacher my senior year, and she ran a program some of us were in called GT (gifted and talented, which really was just another way of saying we particular kids liked to read and write more than most, probably because we weren’t very athletic or popular, and as such had extra time to read and write). Where Ms. Dusebout pushed me into thinking about the wider world, Ms. Doyle pushed into my face (and brain) James Joyce, Shakespeare, and Orwell. She made me understand through systematic thought that poetry was not just for wusses. She made me read things that I actually had to read. Anna Doyle. Carol Dusebout. I don’t know where you are, but I love you both.
Somewhere between high school and Middle Age, I stopped devoting real time out of every day to the habit of thinking. I became quite good at reacting, which is not even in the same zip code as thinking. Thinking takes time, and time is something we as a culture increasingly believe we don’t have enough of. We are too busy to think, because we have demanding jobs and demanding children and demanding social obligations and demanding media, and all of them demand our time, and are clamoring for attention that we have less and less of, because our minds are pulled in so many directions that, almost as a survival mechanism, we become reactive.
And what, dear reader, is the cost of living as reactives? Well, for starters, we’re less open to new ideas, or at least ideas that are different from our own. We tend to gravitate to information sources that we believe are in line with what we already think about things, rather than seeking different opinions about complex subjects. (More often than not, we just avoid complex subjects.) We synthesize. We simplify. We post memes on Facebook that are grounded in neither fact nor truth, because they’re how we feel. And rarely could we truthfully say they’re what we think.
WHAT do I believe in? WHY do I believe it? What kind of a person do I want to be, and to what end? Do you believe you can come at those questions with a derisive picture and a pithy quote on a social network? Hell, no, you can’t. Science Fiction author Theodore Sturgeon said that “ninety percent of everything is crap.” We’re buying into the ninety percent, because more often than not, it’s quick, it’s easy, and we don’t have to think to much about it. But it’s not good for us. Did you ever read H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine? The Time Traveler jumps ahead into the future, only to find out that we basically solved all our problems with technology, and have evolved into a bunch of slack-jawed, puny, pinkish, lazy-butts who lay around all day and eat melon.
And that’s what this is really about, you guys. I don’t want to see you turned into a bunch of slack-jawed, lazy-butt melon-eaters. Because I love my town. And I hate melon.
Let’s get back to really thinking about stuff. It will require time and effort, and something will probably need to come off your busy plate. My belief is, it’ll be worth it. If you don’t believe me, then do like Pooh:
Think, Think, Think.