There are two categories of people in the world or perhaps more — those who, regardless of the crucibles of life, think beyond their disappointments to achieve the goals they have set out to achieve and those who have wonderful goals to realize yet are stuck up in self-piety and delusion because they think life is cruel and does not create the enabling environment for them to achieve their dreams. The former are not very many because every person is not able to conceive life the same way they conceive it. The latter are huge in figure because it is a lot easier and cozier to throw in the towel than face life head on when challenges put them to the test. Though all are human beings, not all have the capacity to convert all experiences, good as well as bad, into opportunities for growth and improvement. Though all are plague in different ways with different problems, some are able to process their problems into diets of self-improvement and self-resuscitation.
Thinking is a principal characteristic that distinguishes man from other species of animals. Unlike the animals in the jungle, man has risen above other creatures as a result of thinking, thus proving his dominance through his inventions as evident in science, in the creation of machines, and in literature such as the writing of books. As a tool, thinking is used for numerous purposes like solving problems, making judgments, discovering the truth, and resolving disagreement.
Thinking varies from person to person. However, it can be categorized into two: undirected and goal directed. Undirected thinking is a form that occurs with minimal to zero logical processing of a given situation. It is the “building castles in the air” or the make-believe kind of thinking in which beliefs and judgments are colored by the personal needs of the thinker than by the external reality. Goal directed thinking, on the other hand, goes through a logical process in evaluating a given situation. It is a form of thinking that reaches a sort of end when its task is fulfilled. Subsumed under it is the critical form of thinking also known as the “clear thinking” or “good reasoning”. Here, logic is king. Its essence can be perceived from the point of view of the fact that through logical thinking, we formulate arguments that possess the virtue of validity which paves the path towards achieving a specific goal.
Apart from critics who may argue for gratification purposes, it is easy to see that the direct mode of thinking has its advantage over other modes of thinking. With this method, we Paulines can make sense of the gift of the vocation that we have received. We can understand better the reason behind our life together as a community. We can be motivated by the realization that our existence as Paulines has an aim that points toward an eternal good; and with this consciousness we can try to modulate the way we think, talk, and behave in order to arrive at that specific goal.
Common claims made with reference to thinking are that thinking has a bearing in performance and a telling influence in health. In performance, it is understood that the result of what is to be achieved depends largely on the mode of thinking that is used. The extent of the achievement is directly proportional to the extent direct or positive thinking is employed. The same is applicable to undirected or negative modes of reasoning. However, unlike the positive that is more beneficial and health promoting, the negative perspective which is somewhat distorting in its influence has a devastating consequence on the human person. It affects understanding. It diminishes self-worth. It pushes people to do negative things. It prevents the person from seeing other options when faced with danger. And in some critical cases, it causes brain disruption. To avoid this, one has to adopt a direct, critical, and positive mode of thinking.
By means of direct and critical thinking, complemented with prayer, we can differentiate rush and puerile decisions that endanger our vocation from sensible ones which can fortify our commitment to our mission. We can avoid distractions of all shades and sizes, particularly racial favoritism which, when tacitly exhibited, can severely affect the unity of the entire family. We are able to discern values that are compatible to our calling as Paulines. We are able to find deeper meaning in life. We are able to make the most out of bad situations around us. We are able to detect when negative thoughts, usually expressed in words like “never”, “can’t”, and “no” begin to influence us and to arrest them before any damage could be done. We come to the knowledge of the import of inter-personal human relationship in realizing a common goal; the essence of love, respect and appreciation of each other in building a community of togetherness. But if we, instead, choose the negative, undirected, and irrational mode of thinking, we may lose the flavor of our community life through selfish or individualistic ways of living. With the “mind your own business” style of living, we may lose our identity as religious by not being true to the vows. We may become less configured to St Paul, our father and model, and become more worldly instead. We may wander far from our commitment to make Christ known. We may substitute virtues with vices — honesty with dishonesty, loyalty with disloyalty, trust with distrust. We may even may become suspicious of each other. Finally, we wither away and become lifeless.
Perusing the New Testament, especially the Pauline letters, it is apparent from the life of St Paul and his three missionary journeys that he had an objective for which he never caved in to any pressure. His thoughts were firm and lucid, thus it could be said that he had a goal-directed mode of thinking. Focused on proclaiming Christ to the gentiles, he considered other programs as “rubbish”. His dominating thought, which is abundantly proven in the scripture, was Christ and so unwavering was he in his conviction that nothing could deter him from executing his responsibilities to the gentiles. “Trials or anguish, persecution or hunger, lack of clothing, or dangers or sword” are but a few of his ugly experiences. The challenge for us, Paulines, therefore is to think for and with Christ. This implies exorcising ourselves from the modes of thinking that do not bring us to Christ and to the offering up of ourselves unconditionally as his messengers, as Paul has demonstrated in his life. This also entails discarding thought patterns that hamper the configuration of ourselves with Christ. May we resolve to allow the Holy Spirit to purify and sanctify our mind so that through our living, we may be Paul alive today. Amen
* Fr. Gerard Tanko is a Pauline priest from Nigeria.