How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds

Written out of concern for the increasing nastiness in the culture and social media, in particular, author Alan Jacobs challenges his readers about the ways we think.

Jacobs gleans insight from literature, psychology, history, and theology to make his case, and it’s a good one. He also doesn’t reduce what is really growing in wisdom and humanity to simple formulae either. While the book is convicting and caused me to do some heart searching, this is a hopeful book too. It is possible to change our thinking patterns. When we step out of unhealthy echo chambers and pursue relationships with people who are “like-hearted” in the pursuit of the truth even if they are not completely “like-minded,” then there is opportunity to learn and grow even when there isn’t consensus. (pg. 62) 

 

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds – Alan Jacobs, Currency,  2017, 157 pages.

I debated about writing a one sentence review – “If you don’t want to act like a jerk toward people you disagree with, read this book.” Or its converse – “If you want to be respectful and gracious toward people you disagree with, read this book.” While both of those statements are true about How to Think, this book is more than tips on being nice and not being mean.

Thinking is more than just being intelligent. It’s more than always making the right decision or having the right answer. It also isn’t about turning off emotions and being purely rational. Thinking is about taking the time and making the effort to consider how our thoughts and thought patterns cause us to view and treat others. To use biblical language, thinking is critical in how we love our neighbor.

Written out of concern for the increasing nastiness in the culture and social media, in particular, author Alan Jacobs challenges his readers about the ways we think. What ingrained habits do we have that affect our thinking? What causes us to disregard people who differ from us? When are we tempted to sacrifice intellectual integrity? What are our emotional investments such that we would rather not think than face the truth? Jacobs gleans insight from literature, psychology, history, and theology to make his case, and it’s a good one. He also doesn’t reduce what is really growing in wisdom and humanity to simple formulae either. While the book is convicting and caused me to do some heart searching, this is a hopeful book too. It is possible to change our thinking patterns. When we step out of unhealthy echo chambers and pursue relationships with people who are “like-hearted” in the pursuit of the truth even if they are not completely “like-minded,” then there is opportunity to learn and grow even when there isn’t consensus. (pg. 62) Although Jacobs is a Christian in the Anglican tradition, this book is for a general audience rather than a solely Christian one. However, the principles can be applied to church life as well as how we interact with the world as a whole.

Providentially during Sunday school, we were discussing our local church and how to maintain unity when there is disagreement over non-essentials. One sister shared that among her family there is strong disagreement over many issues, and they aren’t shy in discussing them. But there is an equally strong family bond such that they can maintain love and still disagree. This is so different from the common bullying, manipulation, and shaming to gain consensus in social media that onlookers can’t believe their eyes. But it’s true, at least for her family, and this type of open, respectful interaction is the point of this book.

So if we care about people, we should care how we think, which will only help us to care more and care well. This is why I highly recommend How to Think. It may not provide pat and easy answers, but it will provoke you to think and grow

I will leave you with two items from “The Thinking Person’s Checklist.” (pg. 155)
– Gravitate as best you can, in every way you can, toward people who seem to value genuine community and can handle disagreement with equanimity.
– Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.

Persis Lorenti is an ordinary Christian. You can find her at Tried With Fire and Out of the OrdinaryThis article appeared on her blog and is used with permission.