In middle school, a friend and I were trying to decide how much we knew. We didn’t think we knew everything, but we figured we knew at least 90% of everything. We also felt sure about how parents, teachers, and administrators should be doing their jobs, how people should vote, and what their religious views should be. I developed a precocious habit of telling people, “You’re not thinking right.”

I tried this line on my mom who warned with some concern that people would not feel comfortable being accused of having thinking problems. In fact, at least one of my blunt middle school classmates said, “you’re stuck up.” My mom understood more of the reality of how people function and that showed when she worked successfully in sales. Although I still care about what’s right, I can see now that I not only had a lot to learn about the world. I also had a lot to learn about myself and other people.

Humanists see many problems that seem to come from “not thinking right.” Worse yet, what we see as facts and careful thinking may slip past as if Teflon coated. Fortunately, the Humanist Community reminds me not only of the need for reasonable investigation to find out what’s true but also of the need for compassion in dealing with self, others, and the world. A truly thoughtful approach involves careful thinking and thoughtful caring.

By looking deeper into the signs of “not thinking right,” I see that many people are worried. People see harm to people and the planet, lies, greed, hoarding, cheating, bribing, arrogance, taking from others, failures to contribute, disrespect, hatefulness, disloyalty, callous indifference, violence, and other excesses. The injustices and inequities in our society aggravate divisiveness. And yet people long to feel that they are significant, connected to others, and making a significant contribution.

If we want to see life and society marked by truth, trustworthiness, sharing, respect, cooperation, loyalty, love, understanding, kindness, peacefulness, sustainability, and compassion, we have a big job. It won’t be enough to say that others are “not thinking right.” Connecting with others in a convincing way takes some understanding of and appeal to their underlying interests, values, needs, and feelings. Making a difference for people, the planet, and our democratic systems will take both reasonableness and compassion in action.

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