I worked for a few mornings on a post I was calling “How to Think From Yourself”, which I was doing my best to convince myself was not a pedantic piece of self-congratulation, but ultimately I couldn’t keep lying to myself. It was. I wanted, the morning after the election, to teach people the difference in thinking from yourself and thinking for yourself—the latter carrying to me an air of abandonment, like “fend for yourself” does. And I wanted to teach people how to figure out whether they’re really thinking from themselves when they say they’re trusting their gut.
It was a mess of a post. Here’s the only bit of it worth salvaging:
There’s a very American idea out there about trusting your gut. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I imagine it has to do with feelings, which source themselves in your gut. Butterflies in your stomach, a knot of fear, etc. Maybe you feel your feelings elsewhere in your body, but mine are there.
When a person finds their brain at war with their gut (or their heart, where the warmer feelings seem to get sourced), this American idea says to side with the feelings. Feelings beat out the intellect. Don’t overthink it. Go with your gut.
An idea I like to bandy about, particularly on Twitter, is that most people think they’re thinking when in fact they’re feeling. Most tweets poke us in our gut, and we spit up what feels true to us. Most of us spend more time in gutspaces than headspaces, if only because headspaces take work to navigate and are, it’s true, exhausting. It’s not 8-hour-job-on-your-feet-no-breaks exhausting; it’s less a heavy body ache than it is draining and dizzying. A lot of time in your headspace can feel like too many rides on a tilt-a-whirl.
Why is that? My guess right now is that thinking requires linearity and the mind is anything but linear. Consider the sequence in which memories come to you—it’s never chronological—versus what you know your mind needs when you say, “Give me a second to think.” Thinking requires a steady laying-out of steps or ideas, and it asks us to form the mess of living into a chain of cause-effect relationships—all while the brain is continually spinning and processing the moving world around us, and trying not to get distracted by car alarms, campaign billboards, or sexy people crossing the street.
The gut never asks for linearity, and the gut doesn’t get distracted. But I don’t know why that makes it more trustworthy than the brain. I’m trying in this post to figure out how I think, and what kind of thinking I value, and why I value it. When I talk about thinking not just for yourself, but from yourself, I don’t mean this gut stuff. I don’t mean to trust this inmost part of your self’s body. I mean to stop feeling as thought your body is at war with itself. Stop believing that you have to pick a side of your insides.
One pet peeve of mine is when people online tell others Do Yourself A Favor And Learn This Thing I Learned To Do Long Ago, You’ll Be A Lot Happier, and then they don’t even bother to teach you how. Any moment I tried to get into the how, the post was a mess. So maybe I’ll come back to this, but all I can say for now is that the first step is knowing who you are and what your desires are, and to make sure you’ve arrived at those desires independent of your politics.
Which requires the didactic spelling out of another process, so you see how difficult good teaching is.