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?

What can help the RETHINKING process? Certainly a major asset would be spending time in a foreign country, or otherwise getting to know another language and culture. They don't call it "culture shock" for nothing, the realization that a large group of people has apparently gotten along just fine for centuries with a completely different set of assumptions from yours. Likewise we could deliberately seek out the writings of people who have given thought to a particular issue: those with whom we are inclined to agree, and especially those with whom we exepect to disagree. A study of history would no doubt also be helpful, taking care to avoid what C. S. Lewis called the chronological snobbery of assuming that no one in the past has anything of real value to say to us today. It hasn't always been done "this way."
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 22, 2006 at 10:21 am | Edit
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Comments
I'm looking forward to your essays. As one living in a different country not all that different from our own, I've been trying to process and rethink America's assumptions. However, I might just be old enough now to know that it might be best to keep my mouth shut until I experience more and take the time to process it.

Posted by Harp on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 at 9:39 am
I'm definitely looking forward to hearing your point of view! I'll try to respond carefully and not be too quick to jump on you with, "But wait! You don't really know! You need more experience!" You may be young and short on some kinds of experience, but you have also now had much experience that most of us haven't, and we need to hear about it. Besides, it will be good to see if/how your views change as you get more and more countries under your belt. :)

Posted by SursumCorda on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 at 9:41 am
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