Why Most People Today Are Acting Rather Than Thinking

Annie Holmquist | October 26, 2016

If you were one of those people who patiently suffered watched the 2016 presidential debates, you probably noticed that both candidates are ready to take action and implement big plans.

Build a wall. Provide free college for everyone. And on it goes.

But when each of the candidates is given more time to talk about those plans in depth, they tend to ramble around grasping at straws, hinting that they really haven’t put much thought into their pet projects.

This attitude, however, isn’t exclusive to the presidential candidates. If social media conversations are any indication, the average American is more prone to act first, giving little thought beforehand to the consequences of those actions.

According to Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), the habit of acting before thinking tends to be prevalent in democracies. In his 1840 treatise Democracy in America he explains:

“What is common in democratic nations, however, is a somewhat troubling restlessness, a constant turnover of people, which disturbs and distracts the mind without stimulating or elevating it.

Not only is meditation difficult for men who live in democratic societies, but they are inclined by nature to hold it in relatively low esteem. The democratic social state and institutions encourage most people to be constantly active, and the habits of mind appropriate to action are not always appropriate to thought. The man who acts is often forced to settle for approximations, because he would never achieve his goals if he insisted on perfection in every detail. He must constantly rely on ideas that he has not had the leisure to delve into, for what helps him is far more the timeliness of an idea than its rigorous accuracy. All things considered, it is less risky for him to invoke a few false principles than to waste time trying to show that all his principles are true. Long and learned proofs do not determine how the world is run. Quick assessments of specific facts, daily study of the shifting passions of the multitude, momentary chances and the skill to grasp them – these are the things that decide how affairs are dealt with in democratic societies.

In centuries in which nearly everyone is active, there is thus a general tendency to place too much value on quickness of mind and superficial concepts and too little on deeper but slower exertions of the intellect.”

Tocqueville’s words ring true in our day and age. Is it possible that the din of our democratic society may eventually drown out the very thought-processes and ideas which once made it free? How can we encourage individuals to slow down, take time, and not be afraid to think beyond surface issues?

Image Credit: Justin De La Ornellas (cropped) bit.ly/1eBd9Ks



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