Several months ago, our local newspaper (or perhaps it was Parade Magazine; I don't recall) asked readers for their one-sentence suggestions for promoting positive change. I did not formulate my response soon enough to enter the contest, but knew almost immediately that it would be in the form, not of one sentence, but of one word: RETHINK.
Just as IBM founder Thomas J. Watson promoted his THINK motto, so would I have bold RETHINK signs featured prominently in every household and office. The ability to THINK, a good and noble faculty not commonly developed nor exercised, enables one to build solid structures on an established foundation. To RETHINK, one must first examine, and possibly dismantle, the foundation itself.
RETHINKING challenges assumptions so basic that we think no more about them than a fish considers the wetness of the water in which he swims. It delves deeper into why we do what we do and considers whether or not there might be a better way. RETHINKING says with John Holt, "We ought all to keep asking ourselves, 'Where are you trying to get, and are you getting there?'" and with Grace Murray Hopper, "The most damaging phrase in the language is 'We've always done it this way.'"
RETHINKING is not rebellion, although it may sometimes lead to rebellious actions. It is emphatically not the strident, youthfull cry that the older generation has it all wrong and nothing will do but to rip up the foundations of society and start over with his own, wiser generation. For such a person, to RETHINK is to reexamine, not what his parents think is normal and right, but the values and assumptions of his peers and compatriots.
Moreover, once the process is complete, the RETHINKER may return to the old foundation, just as it was, with this crucial difference: he is now certain it is a good and solid place on which to stand and build. The goal is neither the rejection nor the justification of our assumptions, but an examination of those things that are so much a part of our nature and experience as to be nearly invisible to us.
What might need RETHINKING? Almost anything, and nearly everything. Here are a few suggestions upon which I hope to expand eventually.
- School/Education What is the purpose of school: education? civilization? child care? Do our schools accomplish this purpose? What do we mean by education? What do we want for our children? For other people's children? What does an educated person look like?
- Medical Care What is health? What do we expect from our doctors? What do they expect from us? What kind of health insurance actually promotes health? When is it more dangerous to go to a hospital than to stay away? Whence the sudden appearance of new threats to our children, such as severe peanut allergies? Would we be healthier if we spent more time looking at what goes right than what goes wrong?
- Transportation Are there workable alternatives that will alleviate the problems of crowded highways, pollution, lack of parking space, and high fuel prices? Is it realistic to break out of the one man – one car model we've grown up with? What assumptions about how to get there from here can be challenged?
- Marriage With all the fuss about who can get married to whom, perhaps it's time to do some serious (re)thinking about just what is the purpose of marriage. Being able to obtain certain advantages bestowed by the government? Formalizing a companionship? Access to sexual privileges? Providing a stable home for children?
- Childbirth What were the circumstances under which your grandmother was born? Your mother? You? Your children? If you are like me, they're vastly different. Is one all bad, and another all good, or can we learn from them all? What does an ideal childbirth look like?