David J. Kearney

March 10, 2015

How to Think, Not What to Think

Filed under: Personal — David J. Kearney @ 1:06 pm

This text is from a Toastmasters speech that I gave on April 9, 2015.


How to Think, Not What to Think

Recently, a light bulb went on and I have been able to connect some dots that weren’t overly obvious to me before.

I am going to start this story by going back to my childhood. Growing up I was a normal kid…got dirty, climbed trees…fell out of trees, played with matchbox cars and legos, struggled through the change of life and those awkward years coming into adulthood. However, throughout my entire childhood through adolescence I was never made to feel like I had to do things to make my parents happy, extended family happy, to follow tradition, to fit in, to make straight A’s, to keep up with the Jones’…to be “normal”. My parents gave me advice, but never told me what to do (within reason of course), who to hang out with, what music to listen to, what college to go to…or that I even had to go to college, my beliefs on religion, my political views, that I had to like football (being born and raised in Pittsburgh, it’s almost a have-to), my thoughts on various lifestyles, the people I dated, the woman I married, to the house I bought, to the jobs I have had. Was this a hands-off approach? Did my parents really not care what I did? Since I have turned out fairly well-adjusted and fiercely independent, I have to believe that my parents did not think that everything they did or all of the beliefs or disbeliefs they had would be a natural fit for me…they saw me as a human…individual…a little person…not just a childlike creature. Did they have some influence? Sure. Did they tell me what to do? No. I always felt loved and cared for, but never smothered and always treated as a human. I do recall hearing the comment, “I can’t make that decision for you”, on many occasions.

I saw a quote a month or so ago that stated “Teach Your Children How to Think, Not What to Think”. It was one of these pictures…meme things, that had a nice picture of an adult and child with a sunset in the background. That resonated with me deeply… It resonated with me more so than it would have than if I didn’t have a child.

This is how I am approaching the way I am raising my son, which I never really thought much about…I was just doing what I did…what I knew how to do…more or less by instinct. I didn’t necessarily do this on purpose. My son gives me his opinion and I don’t immediately react or judge. Caleb tells me what he thinks about school, people, things we do together, his friends, and world events. I do not pre-judge, but only to give him different angles to look at what we are talking about, not the What to Think. This is the How to Think…I don’t push my way or my baggage on my son, because I may not be right…about anything. I can only give him different perspectives and allow him to think, stand, and be his own man.

Having reflected on the quote, how my son and I relate…I now fully see that my parents gave me enough information to know how to make decisions…Real. Life. Decisions. Not to worry about what other people thought…the strength to carry my head high and make the decision that is right For Me, especially during ridicule and uncertainty. 40+ years later, I am the man I am because I am self-reliant due to the ways that I was taught how to think…how to look at things from multiple perspectives, how to be open to anything that is outside of the way I live. I may not always be right…but I am always ME.

Putting this into the bigger picture, we can be creatures of habit and rely on the ways that have contributed to where we are now…so we just keep doing what we’ve always done, acting the way we have always acted, feeling the way we have always felt, and responding the way we have always responded…to situations, circumstances, events. From expectations that have been put upon us as a child to where we find ourselves today. But, chances are that the way you have always thought of the world probably won’t be the Game-Changer that gets you to your next self.

The realization that it is up to you and you alone to use what is in you…not based on what someone else wants you to do, thinks you should do, has told you to do, or wants to persuade you to do. Unfortunately, there is much of that…too much of that. Ways that we become influenced.

As a starting point, allow yourself to just be, to just be you, to just do nothing when your habits tell you to do something. To do the opposite of what you always do. Feel how that feels and that more often than not, there is a better way to think compared to what you have always thought. Do this a couple of times…at first it will be very uncomfortable. When someone says something that gets you emotionally charged, let it go. When someone says “I need you now” (maybe a child, a spouse, a co-worker)…don’t be so quick to jump into gear, jump through hoops, fly off the handle, or be Johnny/Jane-On-The-Spot. We all have these things that we automatically do sometimes that we really need to reflect on and weigh in on whether it is necessary to do. The how to think about this situation…not what to think. For example, my son will talk-back to my wife and I on occasion. I pull back and try to understand why Caleb may have said what he said the way he said it. If the topic warrants, I talk him through what he said so I can understand his perspective. Just because he spoke back…this doesn’t automatically make him wrong. And I have to remember that he is 7 and that he doesn’t mean what he says translated into adult language. This also teaches me how to think…how to think as Caleb. This puts a much different texture on how we are relating to each other.

You know you better than anyone else…not your mom, you dad, your spouse, your doctor, your spiritual advisor, your mentor, your coach, you name them. It is you that you need to learn to be a home with, at peace with, in love with, sometimes at war with, to rely on…to be patient with.

Popular thought does not equal truth…search for how to think…not what to think…what’s right for you.


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