Own Your Own Mind


Own Your Own Mind

by Sharon Presley

Reprinted from The Truthseeker

If you don’t own your own mind, who does?  Sounds like a simple enough question, right?  Each of us owns our own minds, right?  Not necessarily.  Many individuals do in fact operate as if their minds belong to someone else. Whether out of a desire for social approval, fear of being different, or just plain mental laziness, many individuals let other people decide what their opinions are, how to act, what values to hold—all by default.  They uncritically accept the values taught by their parents, teachers, churches, or peers, rarely questioning or asking whether these ideas make sense. They don’t in fact own their own minds—their minds are owned by others.
Owning your own mind means making sense of the world based on your own observations and experiences rather than just depending on the word of others.  It means trusting your own ability to make judgments, even if they contradict what others say.  It means acting in accordance with these judgments, even if you sometimes make mistakes. It means knowing this truth: it’s better to make your own mistakes than someone else's.

Owning your own mind doesn't mean simply being contrary or reacting against the wishes of your parents or peers. If we reject what our parents, teachers or church have taught us simply because they say something is right, this doesn’t make us independent thinkers. That's just what psychologists call "anti-conformity" rather than non-conformity.  It’s still letting someone else dictate what you are thinking—by reaction. Making up your own mind is not a reaction, it is an action.

If you’re reading The Truth Seeker, you’ve already questioning some of what you’ve been told to believe. But the hidden influence of socialization, social norms, social role expectations, the media, and the culture all have more power than most people realize. In the US, where individualism is-, at least in theory, though not in fact, prized, many of us have the conceit that everything we are is a result of our own efforts and thinking. We imagine ourselves to be more self-made than we usually are.

Applying some of the basic principles of critical thinking can help us to see whether we are the real owners of our minds or are in fact letting others tell us what to think.  Two relevant principles here are “analyze your own assumptions and biases,” and  “examine the evidence and consider alternatives.”

Readers of The Truth Seeker have probably already questioned assumptions about religion that parents taught them but what about other areas? Here are some examples of areas that often go unquestioned or only superficially analyzed, even among well-educated and thoughtful people.


Political views:

  • Do you have the same political views as your parents or your spouse or mate because you’ve never really examined or questioned these ideas or just out of mental laziness? Do you know what your political beliefs are?

  • Have you carefully examined or read a variety of different points of view or philosophies and then decided which one makes the most sense to you or did you just stumble haphazardly into the one that other people with your life style advocate?

  • Can you explain the principles or values that lead you to your current views without using lame, vague or tiresome cliches learned from others?  When did you form these views?  How long has it been since you re-examined them in the light of new evidence?

    Social norms

  • Do you dress like everyone else because you don’t want to look different or “odd” or because you fear social disapproval? Perhaps you’re a man who always wears white, beige or blue shirts because they’re “safe.”  Perhaps you’re a woman who dresses conservatively in “sensible” shoes when you secretly long to wear flamboyant purple gypsy skirts. Or perhaps you try to look different just to be different. Do you wear nose rings and purple hair to be shocking?  What do you really like?

  • Do you act in certain ways that you think you “should” because “what would the neighbors think?”  Neatly trimmed and clipped regulation lawn instead of more practical native plants? Better not have that Buddha statue in the back yard because...

  • Do you fear speaking up and expressing your own view because you don’t want to be embarrassed or you’re afraid of social disapproval? Maybe you don’t speak up when your co-workers tell racist jokes because you don’t want to “make waves,” even though you think it’s wrong. Maybe you go along with your friends’ views on affirmative action because you don’t want to appear to be “politically incorrect.”  Or maybe you say things that you don’t even believe just to be outrageous and annoying. 

    Social role expectations: Scripts we’ve all been taught

  • Do you fall into certain gender stereotypical patterns because there’s some you’ve never questioned or because it’s just easier than changing?  If you are a woman, do you let your mate make the important decisions? Do you compromise more than him to “keep the peace?” Do you view your career as less important than his? Did you change your last name to his without thinking when you got married? If you are a man, do you weasel out of housework, even though your mate works outside the home too, because housework is “women’s work”? Do you get your own way more than she does because you assume you are the head of the household? Where did you get these ideas?  Are they fair?

  • If you are a parent, have you given long and careful thought to your childrearing methods or just done things basically the same way your parents did? Maybe you spank first instead of discussing or explaining why the behavior is unacceptable. Maybe you automatically give your children gender-stereotypical toys (i.e., guns for boys, dolls for girls).

  • In a doctor-patient or expert-client relationship, do you meekly accept their advice even when you’re not sure it’s appropriate? Do you ask about the potential side-effects of prescribed medications?  Do you ask second opinions, look for further information, and consider alternatives so that you can make a well-informed decision of your own?

  • When you read or listen to the news, do you just accept the media’s interpretations (except maybe on a few issues you feel particularly strongly about)? Do you accept the opinion of those you agree with politically or ideologically without looking at the issue or evidence for yourself?  Are you politically correct or incorrect as a knee-jerk reaction?  Do you read political points of view beside your own?  Automatically agreeing with Gloria Steinem just because you’re a feminist or Rush Limbaugh just because you’re a conservative or Skeptical Inquiry just because you’re a skeptic is letting them tell you how to think.  No one, no matter how much you agree with their ideology, is always right.

    The above are just a few of the areas important to question and analyze if you want to own your own mind. Here are some ways that you can strengthen or maintain your intellectual property lines.

  • Cultivate a sense of self-worth.  Keep in mind your special talents.  Nourish a secret "inner core" of self that cannot be violated.  If you feel good about yourself, you'll not be as vulnerable to manipulation, pressure and emotional appeals by others.

  • Know what your values are. Develop and maintain a sense of commitment to principles that are important to you.  Understand why they are important.  Have a sense of purpose in your life. If you know what you stand for, others can’t exploit or pressure you as easily.

  • Build your critical thinking skills.  Practice analyzing and discussing arguments, looking at the pros and cons of important issues.  Build creative arguments and counter-arguments. Look below the surface of important issues. Don’t jump to hasty conclusions.

  • Read diverse opinions from different kinds of sources.  Don't just read what you agree with. Be as well-informed about opinions you disagree with as your own.  Analyze the pros and cons of these opinions.  Be open to the possibility of changing your opinions.

  • When watching TV news or reading a newspaper, remember to ask questions and be critical of what you see or hear.  Be more aware of what the media selectively reports, distorts, and leaves out.  Remember that the media don't represent "the truth," only certain perspectives. Read alternative press coverage of events.

  • Teach yourself to watch out for persuasive manipulation and tricks in advertising and news reporting. The media is full of tricks that critical thinking writers call “slanters” ( i.e., innuendo, hyperbole) and “pseudoreasoning” (i.e., ad hominem, red herring ). Read a book on critical thinking.

  • Take time to think about your bias and assumptions.  Be honest with yourself. Don’t make excuses for assumptions that make you uncomfortable if you stop to analyze them. Ask yourself hard questions, i.e., what is your least favorite ethnic group? Why do you feel that way?

  • If you have trouble being assertive or are overly timid or passive, find an assertiveness training group, a counselor with a background in such training, or at least read a book on assertiveness training.  In a non-threatening situation, practice using the techniques you learn so you won't feel so awkward or timid when you really need to stand up for what you believe in

  • If you lack self-confidence or have excessively negative attitudes, fears, or anxieties that make you vulnerable to pressures from your peers or others, seek professional counseling, or at least seek advice from an appropriate book. Books based on cognitive therapy usually offer sensible and effective techniques that can help you change negative or irrational beliefs.

  • Practice going against social rules or conventions when no harm will occur as a result of breaking them.  For example, dress differently than you normally do or differently than a social group you participate in, play devil's advocate in your social or political group.  You may find out that the consequences of being different are not as catastrophic as you imagine.  Even if you get flak, it's a psychologically stretching exercise.

  • Have a dream or your own self-chosen goals. Don’t just settle for what you “should” do or what’s the practical thing to do if your mind (and heart) is telling you to follow a dream that’s meaningful to you. Make your life what you want it to be, not what others think it should be.

    Owning your own mind isn’t necessarily easy. We live in a world that wants us to conform and obey, that wants to own our minds. By applying critical thinking, we can put up the mental property lines and keep the mind thieves out.





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