Wednesday, 15 January 2014

10. I Think, Therefore I Am (Wrong)*

Yesterday at work, my supervisor asked me a question to which I 100% knew the answer. Here was how I replied:

*Looks up to the right and feigns thought* "Uhh, I think it's [so and so]. *Looks back down, furrows brow, then half-nods, feigning self-assurance*

The second I had given the response above, I scolded myself in my head. Why ON EARTH did I even bother to deliver that weak mini-performance? Rather, why do I give those responses? My case is that of the 'People-Pleasing Thinker". When I was at secondary school, I remember wincing as one of my teachers delivered a glowing account of my progress in class to my parents. He asked me why I looked so disappointed and I told him it was because "nobody likes a know-it-all". This, my friend, is the number-one hang-up of The People-Pleasing Thinker.

From this, I began to consider other common contexts in which people often use the phrase, "I think". The results are as follows:

The 'Saving Tail' Thinker (TSTT)

The TSTT's sole purpose in using the phrase "I think" is to cover his or her back at all times. In most cases they're simply unsure, although sometimes they're lying to you. If the TSTT says "I think", and it turns out that they're fundamentally wrong, they can say that they were never fully certain of their words in the first place. Common sentences used by the TSTT in conjunction with the phrase include (but are not limited to):

  1. "Mate, I think I just saw that girl you like in Selfridges with the guy that everyone says she's seeing. Are you sure you still wanna go there?"
  2. "I think the dress fits fine... Yeah, don't worry, I think it looks really good on you. You can't see your VPL at ALL."
  3. "I think the lecturer said we don't have the multiple-choice test this month. Umm, yeah, that's right. It's next month."

Beware of the TSTT. Do your own due diligence by finding out the answers to your TSTT's flaky assertions for yourself, and avoid the potential collateral damage.

The 'People-Pleasing' Thinker (TPPT)

The TPPT is always 100% sure - they would even bet their life on it - of whatever statement it is that follows their use of the phrase, but they simply don't want to appear as a know-it-all. The TPPT wants to be like everyone else, not this super-brainy Awesome 5000 fountain of knowledge that Mr. A. Joe can flick his pennies of negativity into. This thinker most probably spent their childhood years shielding their Maths or English papers from the craning necks and eager glares of their classmates, until they discovered a new context in which to use this wonderful phrase. For the TPPT, the words "I think" are a sure signifier of doubt and are enwrapped in uncertainty; where there is uncertainty, it would follow therefore that there is a lack of knowledge. Thus, exasperation turned into "I think my answer for Question 25 might be wrong actually, so you might not want to copy that." Result.

The Centre-Stage Thinker (TCST)

The TCST is the precise opposite of the TPPT. Where The People-Pleasing Thinker doesn't want anyone to know how full of knowledge they inevitably are, the Centre-Stage Thinker wants to impart their thoughts onto anyone who will listen, despite not necessarily being as sharp as the TPPT. You will note, particularly in speech, how the TCST will pause briefly at the end of someone else's thought, then stress the "I" (either via extension of the single syllable or via a subtle raising of the letter's intonation) when using the phrase:

(Person 1): I think this extract really denounces logic and reason as an automatic signifier of existence and reality.


(TCST): Well I think that you've missed the crucial point of this extract, and indeed of the entire text. We've just read Descartes' famous words in the Second Meditation, and immediately we're pushed towards ideas of...[bla, bla, bla]

People generally think that know-it-alls are bad, but do you know what's worse? A think-they-know-it-all.

The 'Fancy Pens' Thinker (TFPT)

The TFPT quite often does not have the foggiest idea what they're talking about when using the phrase, but they want to sound as though there's at least something going on in that head of theirs. I'm currently reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, and there's an excellent passage in the book where Ifemelu recounts how her American classmates would never say "I don't know" when responding to a lecturer's question, but would always respond with "I think" or "I'm not sure" to demonstrate some knowledge instead of none. Just as a world-class idiot who writes using sparkly gel pens still gets an "F" on their test paper despite it being immaculately presented, so the TFPT uses the phrase as a crutch to mask their total lack of knowledge.

What are the implications of using this phrase in the way that these types of thinkers do, however? As TPPTs or TSTTs, we risk displaying a lack of credibility, as TCSTs we create a bad habit in overlooking the thoughts and opinions and others, and as TFPTs we fail to focus on the importance of content and instead prioritise presentation and outward appearance (that said, skip back to yesterday's post where I talked about quality over quantity).

Are there other "thinking types" that I haven't written about? Let me know via Twitter or by commenting below.

*Sorry, Descartes. I had to.
** References to Rene Descartes' Discourse on Method and The Meditations*

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