When it comes to thinking, I dawdle. Steady but slow, and often meandering. Frankly, I wish I was built differently. I sit in awe of those who think at great speed—those who can respond to an issue in the moment with polish and confidence. Often they are naturally insightful and have an assumed authority in what they say. At its best, it is an extraordinary gift. Meanwhile, I’ve sat in more meetings than I can count when it’s only three agenda items later I finally think of something scintillating to add to item #1. With the conversation moved on, I slink back in my seat feeling ordinary.
I do not begrudge fast thinkers. In fact, there are many I admire. Their gifts are needed, and God help us if we were all like me. But sometimes I do get a bit miffed. I have discovered over the years—slowly—that not every fast thinker is naturally wise. And not every fast thought, no matter how confident, is inspired. To be honest, I’ve lost patience for those flashy thinkers who talk even faster than they think. Even more, I’m a bit over just how much they get listened to.
In an essay I looked at recently, the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu argues that our TV-enamoured (and twittering) society increasingly favours fast-thinkers, those who ‘think faster than an accelerating bullet.’ In contrast, he says, the more careful, deliberate thinker—the one who takes the time to reflect and provides, perhaps, a more nuanced response to an issue—is deprived of oxygen: ‘The result is people who speak like machine guns, in boldface and capital letters, are given air time and influence—not the slow and systematic ones.’
I do not think for a minute that when Bourdieu writes of the ‘slow and systematic’ thinker providing profound and nuanced insights, he had me especially in mind. Still I am encouraged, for me and others like me. Turtle brains unite, I say. Our thoughts may come slowly, but they are still worth having. And, if we are not talked over and can muscle in before the subject is changed, our insights may well add a depth to the conversation that is sorely needed.