The difference between you and a piece of stone is the ability to think (and a few other differences too!) We are all thinking beings. The first thing that we do when we wake up is have our first thought of the day. The last thing that we do before we fall asleep is have our final thought of the day. Through brain imaging technology we have identified the part of our brain associated with thinking and it continues to be active even while we sleep. We are constantly thinking – constructing our own reality – remembering, anticipating, imagining etc.
Most of our thoughts are never expressed openly. Indeed, we think a lot to ourselves. Often we conclude about things without having the evidence. I have met many people who have recovered completely from depression but no one who has succeeded without having first contemplated the thought that such things were possible in the first place. Naturally, there is much more involved in recovering from depression than thinking it to be possible. But such thoughts definitely represent a good starting point. Engaging in thoughts like this harness hope and allow for plans and strategies to be devised that can lead to such breakthroughs.
Scientists have often made the case that we humans are born with a negative bias. Often people ask me whether this is an Irish thing. It’s actually a human thing. As a species we have survived because of this bias. We sought out all other threats and eradicated them. That’s why we remain conquerors of the earth. From birth, we quickly learn how to defend, to anticipate threat, to have what others have, or to have even more. We learn to compete and win. We learn how to fight or flight. It’s as if we have been programmed.
However, rarely are children thought how to calm themselves down. Within our families or through the many years spent at school, most of us were never thought how to be rational thinkers. We never learn how our thoughts colour our moods. Or how sometimes we can think thoughts that make us feel worse than we really should feel about things. Or how we can worry too much about things that are never going to happen. Or how we can get the wrong end of the stick. It is a pity that we are not taught from the early years how to became aware of how we feel. Many people grow up without a language or a vocabulary for naming or expressing their emotions. Many unnecessary rows take place. People often stay angry for too long.
Some stress is inevitable. But we would have a lot less of the unnecessary stress if we were taught how to be neutral, objective, logical and fair-minded. A helpful starting point would to become better at asking questions, seeking the evidence before we decide and consulting with lots of people before we make big decisions.
(C) Shane Martin