Thinking Differently

I choose not to watch television while I’m on the elliptical machine at the gym. The theory in placing televisions in an exercise area is that distracting the mind makes the workout go more quickly and, theoretically at least, more painlessly.

However, I discovered some time ago that my brain’s constant need to filter and sort incoming data is a burden. Especially at a time when I, a relatively uncoordinated and physically ungifted individual, am struggling to stay upright on a machine that is insistent on moving arms and legs in patterns that I find unnatural.

So, I leave the TV off, plug in the earbuds, and listen to music. And I often close my eyes. I am a captive of my own world.

As I started my workout this morning, I noticed that none of the video monitors were on in the line of elliptical devices. Although it shouldn’t matter, it pleased me. And, I also noted that there were no early morning treaders in the line of treadmills just in front of me. That also pleased me. I punched in my information, grabbed the handles and began my blissful submersion into my music and routine.

Several minutes later, another individual took his place just in front of me and turned on not only the TV on his treadmill, but those on either side — all to different channels. Obviously he was not like me at all. I watched with fascination as his head pivoted from side to side as he absorbed the streams of information bombarding him.

I don’t know how successful he was in gathering that information and deciding what use to make of any of it. But as I watched him and, as a result, watched those three channels, I was amazed at how each different information source shaped its message.

All of that made me think about how I form my own channels for receiving information and thinking. I shut out the things that I’m uncomfortable with or that I don’t understand. I stock up on those things that agree with my line of reasoning. Even at those moments when I feel most tolerant, I still hold to the idea that my position remains the most defendable — and therefore the most dependable.

Yet, my experience is that I am wrong as often as I am right. Or that my information source is only marginally accurate. In fact , now, when I hear of some dastardly deed or underhanded ploy by a political figure or celebrity, I seldom accept the story without some doubt and some desire to verify. Except . . . when I want to believe something happened in a particular way that supported what I already thought.

In order to expand my view, I need to expand my channels. Talk to more people. Read about different ideas. Ask new questions. Explore new thoughts.

I know people who will say, “Forget this nonsense. Watch my channel. I have it right.” And while I love many of those people, I have to wonder what their filters have robbed from them.

The big problem with narrow filters is that they cause us to discount people as we screen ideas. I disagree with a lot of ideas that people promote. But I’ve also discovered that I’ve allowed a person’s ideas to be the determining factor in whether I value them as a human being. That isn’t just bad information gathering — it’s ungodly.

My fear is that a broader view might change drastically what I believe and what I hold as important. I know that I have to continue to be vigilant in discerning what I see and hear.

But maybe adding to my channels will help me think differently . . . about people.

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