Think for yourself

First published as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

Remember the wild dotcom boom during the late 1990s - and its explosive, crashing bust a few years later? Or the once-unimaginable slide of the mighty Japanese economy that took financial markets around the globe by surprise? What drove these events - both their rise and fall?

In the case of the dotcom boom, investors became caught up in the flurry of inflated value placed in companies that existed mostly on paper. And when those companies dissolved, a stampede took place in people's thinking with a massive shift from high expectations to deflation and, for many, heavy losses.

These events might seem unrelated to most of us. But they provide cogent examples of how groupthink - contagious group thinking - can drive employment rates, real estate prices, and consumer debt.

We see this phenomenon in our daily lives, too - in binge drinking on college campuses, in sensational court cases that hold fascinated millions in thrall, even in sports team loyalty that can border on the fanatic.

Other, more sinister examples of mass hypnotism have swept through human history: the witch trials that gripped Europe for three centuries, the Inquisition in Spain, the rise of anti-Semitism under the Nazis during the 1930s. The list of such examples is, tragically, much longer and much broader in scope than indicated here. But even these serve as reminders that nations and individuals must always be vigilant not to fall prey to communications that can replace clear, reasoned thinking with mass hysteria and scapegoating.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, recognized the stultifying and detrimental effect that fear-based, hypnotic ideas can have on the vitality of an individual as well as on a church or a nation. In her seminal book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she wrote, "The time for thinkers has come. Truth, independent of doctrines and time-honored systems, knocks at the portal of humanity" (page vii).

Today, those words are a call to wake up out of past beliefs that limit and demoralize ourselves or others. To ardently resist the drift toward "groupthink."

This mass hypnotic thinking could be something fairly temporary - and somewhat benign. Or it could be much more detrimental, as in the debilitating, unhealthy expectation that society foists upon many Western girls regarding their body image. These young teens try to emulate the malnourished, anorexic waifs who fill the pages of fashion and movie magazines, and in doing so devalue themselves and suffer emotionally and physically, sometimes even to the point of death.

Thinking for oneself - drawing on the reason and clarity that come from divine Intelligence - puts one outside the box of blind, robotic thinking. And because God knows precisely what is right in every individual case, no one ever need do our thinking for us. And while it's usually teenagers who struggle with peer pressure, reaching adulthood doesn't necessarily mean that the inclination to conform to other people's opinions goes away. Because, at a much deeper level than just wanting to be popular, each person wants to feel valued and respected. Conforming - giving in to or even just drifting into groupthink - might seem the easiest way to achieve this. But in fact, when one subjugates individual thinking, the effect is dehumanization. Instead of being secure and vital, one sacrifices individuality.

Relying on God's guidance leads every person to the right decisions, regardless of what is au courant or politically correct. Ultimately the greatest security and feeling of acceptance come from trusting divine Intelligence. And when God - Intelligence itself - is the source of individual thinking, the world benefits. Rather than being burdened by automatic, dead-end thinking, the world becomes infused with progressive, fresh ideas - the magnificent, unfathomably rich ideas that emanate from God, and uplift individuals and nations.

Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-make you
so that our whole attitude of mind
is changed.

Romans 12:2, J.B. Phillips

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