It started as an ordinary discussion of books and life, but ended (naturally) with a fight about Emily Dickinson.
Not the Dickinson you remember from high school, the one on Apple TV (featuring Wiz Khalifa as death and John Mulaney as Thoreau. I KNOW RIGHT.).
In the show, teenage Emily refuses to participate in household chores and declares herself entitled to “time to think.”
My friend, Shannon, viewed this as a powerful act of defiance.
I saw Emily as a spoiled brat.
Our debate splintered into two places from there. On one hand, there is our individual interpretations of the director’s and actor’s portrayal of Emily Dickinson (in which, I was right).
On the other hand, there is the philosophical question: Are you entitled to time to think?
(If yes, why? If not, should you be?)
This is where the conversation gets interesting. Every part of my cultural inheritance suggests, no, you are unequivocally not entitled to time to think.
Like many of us, I descend from immigrants who “fought tooth and nail” for upward mobility towards The American Dream. It was instilled in us early on that the only responsible things to pursue are money, safety, and blending in as much as possible.
To be an artist or intellectual – to think – would not just be blasphemous, it would be irresponsible.
Thinking is a privileged “nice to have.” Something you earn after you hustle, work, and martyr yourself for your family.
Imma pause us right here and ask if anyone sees the problem with the sentences I just wrote.
The problem is the frame.
We frame conversations around art, creativity, and intellectual “thinking” life in binaries: “practical vs impractical,” “useful vs wasteful,” “privileged vs hardworking.”
This is where I found myself in a debate with my friend Shannon. We were debating whether it was brave or spoiled to demand time to think <— But that is the wrong question.
The question we should have contended with is why does America insist on these simplistic and inaccurate binaries on a topic we have SO MUCH SCIENCE on??
We think stillness, rest, art, and intellectual pursuits are things we get AFTER we grind, hustle, and DO THE MOST. They’re a reward you earn. <— This is where we are confused.
Stillness. Being. Thinking. They are not in conflict with doing. They work together with it.
Life doesn’t exist as a binary. Nature vs nurture. Being vs doing. Art vs money. Work vs fun. It’s BOTH AND (Google epigenetics and neuroplasticity and you’ll see why nature vs nurture is a senseless debate – it’s both AND).
You cannot get to happiness without stillness (this is a fact. It is indisputable.).
Happiness isn’t external, it’s internal. Also it’s not the right goal but that’s for a different article (seriously do not waste your time on happiness, it’s like chasing the hot person at the bar – you’re all excited she’s paying attention to you, but the sex will be disappointing. Spend your time on meaning, fulfillment, allowing, and mindfulness).
Thinking gets a bad rep for being indulgent. People accuse it of being ruminative, but rumination and rational thought are not equivalent. Rumination is reactive, it’s the absence of thinking, it lacks rational thought. It’s a loop. A hole. And it’s a symptom of internal pain.
Thinking is active, not passive. It’s hard (which should, as Americans, make us EXCITED TO PURSUE IT). It demands effort, focus, and a boatload of attention. It requires challenging what you thought was true and then updating your schema with new information. It demands being wrong, a lot. It demands the ability to sit with the tension of not being sure – to get comfortable inside of a question. To be still, to stare, to wonder.
I am guilty of the American bias against time to think. I am not immune from my conditioning. But what’s cool about being a human being (and epigenetics!) is we can update our wiring. We can change it when we discover it’s wrong and unhealthy.
Please, for the love of all things that matter, entitle yourself to think.
And before you say it, let me offer this disclaimer:
Do not write me about the binary of thinking and doing. I will not have it. I will not tolerate it on this email list. It’s BOTH AND. Both and! We are not in conflict! We’re on the same team!
All thinking and all doing are both nearsighted.
We are the alleged “first world.” LEARN! UPDATE THE SCHEMA! But more importantly: go find a tree, sit under it, read, and think.
PS: Most of us are confused about what it means to think. We ruminate, we feel, but we don’t think. Thinking involves poking holes.
PPS: #HAMJAMS is back! We went live yesterday for the second time since our migration to Instagram. Check out the convo between me and Hillary Weiss here. This week we talked positioning. JUICY. As always, if you liked the JAM, please like it, comment, and share it with your friends.