How to Think

by Alan Jacobs

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Last Updated on September 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 339

Ideas as Community Property

Ideas don't exist in a vacuum, and Alan Jacobs doesn't believe that people have original thoughts. Instead, our thoughts are shaped by our upbringing, our community, our experiences, and those around us. Everything we think is influenced by something else in our lives. If we are willing to recognize the things that influence our thoughts, we will be better able to remove our inherent biases so that we can think more clearly. People who are unwilling to look at what motivates their ideas are less willing to have a flexible mind that can be changed when new evidence is presented.

The Significance of the Various Uses of Words

Jacobs counsels readers to be aware of what words people are using. Sometimes words are used persuasively to convince us of something; other times, they're used to obscure an idea or get around an argument. He suggests that readers consider who would benefit from them focusing on one thing over another based on the language being used. To this end, he writes about keywords and how they are used in hashtags to help bring people with similar interests together or abbreviate a point. He also shows that people use words to influence others by using words to conflate two ideas together. For example, people talk about winning an argument, being wiped out, or having a suggestion shot down; all of these make people associate argument with war.

The Importance of Active Listening

One way in which thinking is impacted is that many people are simply waiting to speak rather than listening. It's so important that they're able to share their own ideas that they entirely miss the point of what the person they're conversing with is saying. Jacobs writes that when people hear something they disagree with, they enter "Refutation Mode" and stop listening or thinking. Instead, they're simply waiting to prove the other person wrong. He suggests readers find good, fair-minded people whose views they disagree with, listen to them without responding, and then think over what they've said.

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