Thought is Not Enough

John - Amherst, Massachusetts
Entered on April 26, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I believe that thought is not enough. Thought, the product of thinking, has built weapons capable of destroying everything we love. Thinking has degraded environments, created cycles of poverty, and allowed us to introduce toxic chemicals into our bodies and ecosystems. To solve the problems of humanity, we must go beyond mere thinking.

We need wisdom, where wisdom is defined as the awareness of what has value in life. Learning for wisdom will require the integration of thinking and feeling, mind and body, science and spirit, knowledge and values, head and heart, yin and yang. Learning for wisdom will require more education and less schooling.

During the early years of learning, feeling and thinking are coupled and intelligence grows through intuitive leaps. The child learning to examine and manipulate her fingers is an act of raw, unguided learning. This learning experience is full of wonder and a miracle of personal achievement, so different from the teachings offered in school. The environment of the early learning experience is one of support, challenge, caring and love. The process of learning that begins with the infant is lost over time as schooling rewards thinking and discourages feeling. Passions are buried, sometimes to explode in destructive behavior but rarely to be employed in a coherent learning process in which intelligent feeling is encouraged.

To understand the difference between the coherent learning of the infant and the incoherent learning of the adult mind, imagine a young adult who has never seen the sun rise over the eastern ocean. At her first encounter, the childlike learner might see the ever-changing depth of color in the water, the brilliant reflection of the morning sun as it dances on the crests of distant waves. She might see the majesty of the ocean swells, and hear the roar of those same swells relinquishing their power as they crash one after the other onto the beach. She might feel the spray on her face, leaving a drying crust of salt. At a moment like this, the childlike learner might ask what or who made this monument to the wonder of the earth. At a moment like this, she might believe in God. If we then send this same person to school to learn about the physics, chemistry and biology of ocean systems in a classroom far from shore, factual knowledge will slowly replace the wonder and awe of the first encounter.

While education is indeed the path to discovery of solutions for humanity’s problems, the incoherent teachings of the schools divert us from the learning we need. We need an education of rigorous intellectual activity motivated by wonder. This kind of learning should be nurtured by an environment of community caring where thinking and feeling are both honored, and the values of happiness, health, friendship, love, justice, freedom, responsibility, democracy, and productive work are explicit, desired outcomes. Thought is necessary for this kind of learning, but thought alone is simply not enough.