I suppose that for someone whose mind operates like a runaway concrete mixer, it is not surprising that when it comes to my daily life, I so seldom actually stop to think before I do something. It has been one of the banes of my existence (and my existence is filled with banes of various shapes and sizes). I never allow myself to contemplate where I might have gotten in life had I not had to spend so much time constantly going back to retrace my steps in attempting to undo mistakes made through lack of thinking ahead.
I take some small comfort in the fact that I cannot claim a patent on this problem, and that--hard as it may be for me to realize--others actually make even more astoundingly stupid act-first-think-later mistakes than I. Today's paper, for example, had an article of a woman who was filling a gas can and, in order to see how much gas was already in the can, used a cigarette lighter to look inside. Hospital emergency rooms...and morgues...are filled with similar examples. The annual Darwin Awards are absolute gems of cases of people who, by not thinking ahead, to quote the awards, "improve the human gene pool by leaving it." I take great comfort in the Darwin Awards.
Assumptions are dangerous whenever they are used, as I so often use them, in lieu of thinking. When I set my keys down, I of course know exactly where I put them. I therefore automatically assume that three minutes later I will still remember where they are. Wrong. I can and do forget them within the time and space required to take three steps in any direction. Then begins the increasingly frenzied search accompanied by mounting self-fury for being so incredibly stupid as to have lost them in the first place. I find myself looking in places I know full well I'd not been near in days. I look in the cupboards. I look in the refrigerator. I look under every piece of furniture in the apartment. I look in the pockets of pants I've not worn all week. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They have vanished.
Until they show up. And then I have a "well of course that's where they were" moment and totally forget the incident until the next time it happens. (I've always admired the "Duh!" answer to the classic puzzle, "Why is something you're looking for always in the very last place you look?": "Because when you find it you stop looking." Truly profound.)
Untold fortunes have been made on the safe bet that people will act before they think. I read, not too long ago, that the internet is flooded with some 4 billion spam messages every day--though I think that's a very conservative estimate. Fully 99.9 percent of that number are predicated on the people receiving them not taking a single moment to use one iota of logic in thinking about what the message really says. Do none of them stop to wonder why out of the world's population of over 6 billion people, the General Operations Manager of the Hong Kong Bank of China is writing to them to offer untold millions of dollars in exchange for participation in a scheme so devoid of logic that it would give a cocker spaniel pause? The spammers know full well that greed trumps logic nine times out of ten.
And I think yet again of H.L. Mencken's classic observation that "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Why? Because intelligence requires thinking.
What I find particularly sad and infinitely infuriating is that at the core, not thinking is linked to the basic decency of each human soul, which makes people want to believe what they're told, and an inherent resistance to believe that someone might be untruthful. There are no words adequate to describe those despicable individuals who willingly relinquish every link to humanity but their DNA, and who make it their life's work to destroy the very concept of trust among those who can least afford to lose it. (I am the perfect example of why handguns should be banned, for I sincerely believe that confronted with a room full of these creatures, I would have absolutely no compunction about shooting as many of them as I could.)
Well, again it goes back to a paraphrase of the old saw: "You can lead a man to logic, but you cannot make him think."
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