…so says the eponymous anti-hero in a classic episode of Blackadder; “Thinking is so important.”
As fans of the series will know, much of the comedy derives from the fact that none of the characters is able ever to apply coherent thought to a problem. They blunder through life, staggering from disaster to cunning plan and back again, never quite able to get life working as they’d like it to.
Until, that is, the episode in which Edmund and Lord Melchett get captured and held for ransom (by a criminal who clearly doesn’t know Queen Elizabeth well enough – why would she ransom two of her closest advisers when she could have ‘a big party’ instead?!).
Sitting in jail, Blackadder has nothing to do but think. By paying attention to the routine of his guards and to the egomaniacal posturing of his captor, he is able both to effect an escape and ultimately to outwit and kill the evil mastermind.
Both the article I referred to last week and Rudy Giuliani’s book Leadership, which I’m currently reading, suggest that thinking is a key part of leadership.
In Solitude and Leadership, Deresiewicz suggests that successful leaders (and I would include in that people who lead themselves, not just others, well) are people who regularly seek out solitude and quietness to give themselves space to think. You can make this solitude an internal thing, if you’re unable to escape the people around you or the things you have to do, by learning to tune in to your own thoughts and reflections on the situation you’re in. I would suggest that in order to develop this ability, you probably need to start by physically getting away, turning off the radio and the ipod, switching off your phone and e-mail, even putting aside the excellent and instructive book you’re reading, and spend time just thinking.
Input is great, but if you can’t process the thousands of thoughts and ideas which are thrown at you each day, how will you know which ones are valid and worthwhile? You end up just parroting the latest big ideas without really being sure whether you actually believe them.
Giuliani says you need to develop strong beliefs. Deresiewicz says you need to figure out your own reality. I say neither of those quite hits the mark for a Christian. We need to figure out what God says about any given issue or situation, what the actual, objective truth of it is. There is an element, of course, of reflecting on what fires you up, what issues you care about and want to engage with, but we need to realise that it is God who gave us those dreams and burdens, and that he did it because there is something in this world that he wants to change through us.
So there’s an added aspect to our reflection time. We need to reflect on what we know of God’s character and will, and build that into our reflecting on the stimuli we are faced with day by day.
This means adding into our reading, listening and watching great Christian books, excellent sermons and, of course, the Bible. A lot of things are thrown at us and there is little we can do about it – conversations overheard in the office, newspaper headlines scanned as we walk past the newsagent’s, conferences we have to attend, things we have to read – but we need to counterbalance that by being wise about the things we can choose.
Take some time to think about what you’re choosing to read, to watch, to listen to, to study. Are they helping you to reflect on the things that are thrown at you? Are they helping you to grow and develop your critical reasoning? Are they providing a counter-balance to the things you can’t avoid reading? If you’re choosing them just because they help you switch off, don’t forget that that doesn’t make them neutral – you still need to process them, even if that processing is just to acknowledge that they have all the nutritional value of candy floss!
What do you think? What does God think?
What do you think about what God thinks?
These are foundational questions for anyone who wants to be successful at leading their own lives or leading others.