We all have a certain degree of admiration for those forward-thinkers who were ahead of their time, or for those free-spirited individuals who had the courage, the will and the foresight to speak their minds despite the risk of being labelled non-conformists and cast to the outer fringes of society.
Well, truth be told, that is never a real threat for free thinkers. Actually, that is where they belong and what makes them what they are. Free thinkers breathe and thrive at the margins of society where structure and chaos cross at the borderline. If you want to be a free thinker you must embrace chaos, novelty, disruptive change and non-conformity. Free thinkers live on the brink of social breakdown. They live on the edge, away from the anaesthesia of normalcy and institutionalized control.
They are not held captive by the rigid walls of the dominating worldview. They do not fear change, poverty or conspiracy. If you want to free your thinking and become an agent of change and novelty, there are a few things you need to recognize and understand.
1) Creativity is your natural birth right.
We stereotype creative thinkers as artists or bohemians who are different than the rest of us. Well that is plainly false. We are all endowed with the gift of creativity. Education, or rather schooling, has successfully stripped us from that natural disposition. It has moulded us into mechanistic and reductionistic images of humanity – into cogs in the wheel. The schooling system is designed to make people think within the same parameters – those laid down by the dominating view of society and culture.
Students are discouraged to deviate and think freely outside of those parameters. They just have to follow curricula which channels them to examinations and higher institutions only to eventually become part of the workforce. Yet creative thinking is your natural birthright. They only taught you how to unlearn it without even noticing.
2) Group thinking & Herd Morality are your enemies.
Group thinking is the silent enemy of free thinking. We unconsciously follow the rhythm of the crowd. When the crowd shouts, we feel compelled to shout. When the crowd panics, we panic. Emotions, sentiments and ideas can be very contagious. So is thinking. It’s quite easy to follow the line of thought of your peers and those in authority. Yet as we become sedated with group thinking, we lose the power to claim the authenticity of our own mind.
Besides thinking, we judge people and events as being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ following the morality of the herd. We succumb to morally feel what the rest of the herd feels about an issue. Morality is a highly debatable philosophical idea but the short end of it is that herd morality limits our potential to be free-minded, responsible individuals.
3) Perspective is key.
The free thinker knows the power of perspective. Perspective changes everything. What we feel or think about something can dissolve or flip the other way around just by changing perspective. Even the strongest of views and beliefs can change when a newer perspective is reached. What seems like loss can be seen as opportunity just by changing your perspective. Adversity can turn into a learning opportunity; problems can turn into a solution; what is failure from one perspective can be seen as a launching pad for success from another.
When you think freely you know that there is always more than one perspective on a given situation. You just need to view things from another angle. I like to use the internal courtyard analogy. We are all windows in a circular building overlooking an internal courtyard. The perspective from my window is different than the others. Hence, if I want to have a better picture of the courtyard of life I need to look at it from other windows.
4) Knowledge is provisional.
Conservative, authoritarian, religious or institutional structures resist change forcefully because their worldview rests on the premise that their knowledge or beliefs are absolute. Even science can, and has, fallen into this trap at times.
Yet the free-thinker is sure of only one thing – that knowledge is provisional. What we think we know today will be debunked or dramatically changed by what we know tomorrow. Free thinkers run away from individuals or organizations who claim to know something, or worse, know everything. They are fully aware that we haven’t got the faintest clue yet — despite big leaps forward — about the world, life and the universe at large.
5) Popping the time bubble.
Free thinkers, especially visionaries and forward-thinkers have burst the time bubble. That means that they’ve recognized that we view the world through the narrative of our time. That narrative changes over decades and centuries, yet we are closed in a time bubble, so to speak, that limits us to seeing the world only within the narrative of our own time. The greatest innovators, futurists, visionaries and thinkers saw beyond that narrative. They burst the time bubble open and peered ahead of their time.
6) Defying institutional pressures.
Society has two major forces at play. One is a top-down control transmitted hierarchically through the institutions. The other is a force of change, novelty and innovation which is built bottom-up from individuals and slowly accepted and adopted by larger social structures.
One crazy innovative idea from a free-thinker on the fringes of society can be taken up by some influencers and spread virally through the mass media until it becomes a norm. OK, this is a simplistic overview, but it’s enough to show the basic mechanics of social change.
Free thinkers are those individuals on the fringes of society cooking up shockingly new ideas. They refuse to succumb to institutional pressures of uniformity and control. The institutional top-down forces are there mainly to preserve their status-quo, the stability of the social system and its identity, hence they resist novelty and change. The power of the free thinker, on the other hand, lies in constantly defying these institutional pressures to abide to the rules and accepted norms of society.
7) Perception is to be altered, not accepted.
Another powerful tool in the free thinker’s toolbox is perception, or rather, its bending and shifting. Philosophers have debated the nature of perception for ages. There are some who hold that perception gives us a reliable view of how our outer reality is and some others argue that perception is greatly influenced and fixed by our beliefs and knowledge.
A classic example is colour perception. Colour is only a conventional label. What may seem plainly white to you, is only one of a large variety of hues for the Inuit, who live in an almost entirely white world. They’re able to differentiate between a wide range of ‘whites’ and they even have words to describe them. Their perception is different, and so is their reality.
Free thinking individuals understand how perception is fixed and limited by our consensual view of the world. Yet in reality, perception need not be fixed; it can be altered and changed. It comes as no surprise, then, that many free-thinkers turn to ancient traditions that have studied and tinkered with perception for millennia, either by disciplined practice or entheogens. Famous free-thinkers like Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna and Ram Dass come to mind.
To be a free thinker, you have to break free from social, institutional, and cultural conditioning. You also have to break free from your skeptical/rational mind at times, and allow your imagination and intuition to be your guide. Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box.
Source: “7 Things You Must Know to Be a Free Thinker,” from soulhiker.com, by Gilbert Ross. Re-published here with permission.