Doing Your Homework

Do Your Homework

“Got a good reason, for taking the easy way out.  Got a good reason for taking the easy way out.” (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)

One of the most challenging tasks one can engage in is focused and thorough thinking.  “The easy way out” is often found in 1) trying to find cut-and-dry, black-and-white solutions to every problem or 2) denying the complexities of modern life offering superficial and simplistic solutions to sizeable challenges.

M. Scott Peck once discussed the problem of simplism in his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, which tends to reduce the complex challenges of modern life into neat and tidy solutions.  Too often, we gravitate towards simplistic solutions to these difficulties and mysteries.  Why?

For one, it’s easier.  Thinking–serious thinking involving focus, research and reflection–is hard work.  Again, we have a bent towards laziness…following the path of least resistance and exerting minimal effort.

The problem with simplistic thinking is that easy answers in neat, tidy packaging eventually get found out for what they are.  The result?  Cynicism.  Disillusionment.  Loss of values.  Even loss of faith.  Having come from a background that has included not a few years as a minister, simplistic solutions to serious problems ultimately destroy in the end.  Fundamentalists, note this please.

The solution?  Do your homework.  Whatever your challenge, put your time and paces in to get to the bottom of a matter.  The greater the stakes, the more effort you must exert.  At times, life is simple, even black and white.  Most of the time it is not.  If you know this going in, you’ll fare well and your ship will probably moor safely.

Do your homework.  And don’t leave it to anybody else, even the experts.  There’s far too much at stake.

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Outliers and Factors of Success

OutliersLast year I read a remarkable book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  I am stunned by the results of Gladwell’s investigation into the hidden causes of success.  It is one of the most fascinating and upsetting books I’ve read in a long time.  Upsetting in a good sense, that is.  It upsets commonly cherished ideas about how people attain success in life.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck argues that one of the characteristics and problems of our age is what he calls simplism.  Simplistic thinking fails to take into account that life is complex.  There are many variables that make up the people we live with and the challenges of our time.  The rub is that the variables are not always apparent.  It takes probing, time, patience and labor, for thinking is work.  Really.

The strength of Gladwell’s work is the way he demonstrates that, for example, 1) Bill Gates was not just a computer genius who came on the scene in the 1970’s and through sheer brilliance became the richest living American, 2) Asians aren’t necessarily “better” at math than Westerners but are more patient and their numbers nomenclature more user-friendly, and 3) that some recent airline disasters have more to do with overarching cultural distinctions vis-à-vis authority and power distance rather than simple “pilot error.”

I’m not writing today’s post as a spoiler for Gladwell’s book.  You owe it to yourself to get your hands on it and read carefully.  When I finished the book, I was struck with the reality that I am far too quick to pass judgment on the issues of the day, on why some fail and some succeed, even on theological issues—the area that I’ve given the most attention to since the early 1980’s.  Rarely are all the facts and evidence on the surface.

We are all composites of the influences and environments in which we were raised and in which we now spend our lives.  We are not simply our genetic makeup, products of our DNA.  More often than not, there are hidden factors that figure into the success of some, the failure of others.  Timing often figures in as much as raw ability.  We can thank Malcolm Gladwell and those like him (Scott Peck, Geoff Colvin, etc.) for digging deeper and giving us the full picture.

Here are a few brainteasers with which to bait yourself:

  • What cultural and economic tides are coming in right now that I can make the most of?  In other words, can I discern the signs  and trends of the times?  My friend Christopher Hopper has written extensively on the emerging wave of self-publishing.  You can read about that here.  It most certainly will be a force in the literary world in the days to come.  But it needed a level playing field, courtesy of the World Wide Web, to function and in which to be established.
  • What current politically hot issue engages me the most and do I have solid, consistent thinking and evidence to support my position?  Democrats routinely chide pro-life evangelicals for being oxymoronic—at once militantly anti-abortion and also vehemently pro-war (or pro-death penalty).  Are the criticisms valid?
  • Am I patient enough to thoroughly research problems and find meaningful solutions? Peck again.  You must be patient and resist the urge for simplistic, easy answers.  Thinking is work.  Are you up to it?

Digest Gladwell’s book.  It is a very important contribution!

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Hear All Sides

I served as a pastor in three different church staff positions over the course of about sixteen years.  One learns many different things in the pastoral role.  How to wear many hats.  How to multi-task.  How to inspire a volunteer work pool to assist the community of faith.

Frequently, as any pastor knows, you are called upon to mediate conflicts in one form or an other.  A lot of these are marital; some are between estranged friends; others involve attempts to resolve some dispute as peacefully and equitably as possible.

One core value you learn rapidly is this: There are always two sides to any story.  And it is part of fallen human nature to paint our own side of a matter in the rosiest hues possible.  We all have blind spots.  Knowing this reality and acting on it will save you lots of headache and frustration.

There’s a proverb in the Bible that goes like this: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)  There is a reason why cross-examination is foundational to our legal system, why rebuttal is a cornerstone of debate.  It’s simply this: Words are powerful and through their skillful or crafty use, you can make a logical case for lots of things—even reprehensible things.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, had a method for dealing with theological  propositions.  He’d state a thesis first.  Then he would amass every conceivable argument against the thesis he sought to prove.  Finally, he’d deliver his arguments in support of the thesis.

We face things daily that require the hard work of thinking thoroughly and soberly in order to come to the truth.  One of the most healthy things you can do is subject your cherished beliefs and convictions to the “devil’s advocate” test.  Are you bold enough to look at the arguments of the other side in order to see things differently?

Here’s a couple of teasers to think through:

  • How much do you really know about the Trayvon Williams shooting? Facts, not protests.
  • Compare the behavior of the Occupy Wall Street protesters versus that of the Tea Party protesters.  Which group came down as more civil and law-abiding?
  • Compare the behavior of media personalities Lawrence O’Donnell, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow with that of Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck.  Any similarities? (Disclosure: I am not a fan of any of these people. Not even a little.)
  • Has the reporting of popular media outlets been equally balanced in the matters of the foul-mouthed controversial utterances of Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher toward Susan Fluke and Sarah Palin?
  • If executive competence were a prerequisite for the Presidency, of these three, who best met the requirement–Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton?

I’ve not given my own opinion on the above questions because the purpose of this post is to make you think.  (Don’t bother guessing where I’m at on these—you might be surprised!)

It takes hard work and brutal honesty to really come to a balanced understanding of so much that goes on in our world.  If you are lazy and want to believe a) mainstream news media outlets from MSNBC to FoxNews or b) your own untested and unexamined prior commitments, you will be in for a rough ride.  Simplistic thinking hurts you.  It just does.

A caveat:  Before you come down on one side or the other of some issue, take the advice of Chuck Missler.

Do your homework.

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Outliers: A Corrective For Simplistic Thinking

Author Malcolm Gladwell

Last night I finished reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  It is one of the most fascinating and upsetting books I’ve read in a long time.  Upsetting in a good sense, that is.  It upsets commonly cherished ideas about how people attain success in life.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck argues that one of the characteristics and problems of our age is what he calls simplism.  Simplistic thinking fails to take into account that life is complex.  There are many variables that make up the people we live with and the challenges of our time.  The rub is that the variables are not always apparent.  It takes probing, time, patience and labor, for thinking is work.  Really.

The strength of Gladwell’s work is the way he demonstrates that, for example, 1) Bill Gates was not just a computer genius who came on the scene in the 1970’s and through sheer brilliance became the richest living American, 2) Asians aren’t necessarily “better” at math than Westerners but are more patient and their numbers nomenclature more user-friendly, and 3) that some recent airline disasters have more to do with overarching cultural distinctions vis-à-vis authority and power distance rather than simple “pilot error.”

I’m not writing today’s post as a spoiler for Gladwell’s book.  You owe it to yourself to get your hands on it and read carefully.  When I finished the book, I was struck with the reality that I am far too quick to pass judgment on the issues of the day, on why some fail and some succeed, even on theological issues—the area that I’ve given the most attention to since the early 1980’s.  Rarely are all the facts and evidence on the surface.

We are all composites of the influences and environments in which we were raised and in which we now spend our lives.  We are not simply our genetic makeup, products of our DNA.  More often than not, there are hidden factors that figure into the success of some, the failure of others.  Timing often figures in as much as raw ability.  We can thank Malcolm Gladwell and those like him (Scott Peck, Geoff Colvin, etc.) for digging deeper and giving us the full picture.

Here are a few brainteasers with which to bait yourself:

  • What cultural and economic tides are coming in right now that I can make the most of?  In other words, can I discern the signs  and trends of the times?  My friend Christopher Hopper has written extensively on the emerging wave of self-publishing.  You can read about that here.  It most certainly will be a force in the literary world in the days to come.  But it needed a level playing field, courtesy of the World Wide Web, to function and in which to be established.
  • What current politically hot issue engages me the most and do I have solid, consistent thinking and evidence to support my position?  Democrats routinely chide pro-life evangelicals for being oxymoronic—at once militantly anti-abortion and also vehemently pro-war (or pro-death penalty).  Are the criticisms valid?
  • Am I patient enough to thoroughly research problems and find meaningful solutions? Peck again.  You must be patient and resist the urge for simplistic, easy answers.  Thinking is work.  Are you up to it?

Digest Gladwell’s book.  It is a very important contribution!

Image Credit