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
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.
Do you have the same political views as your parents
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
Have you carefully examined or read a variety 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
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?
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
Do you act in certain ways that you think you “should”
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
Social role expectations: Scripts
we’ve all been taught
Do you fall into certain gender stereotypical
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
In a doctor-patient or expert-client relationship,
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
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
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
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
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
Build your critical thinking skills. Practice
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,
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
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
Take time to think about your bias and
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
If you have trouble being assertive or are overly
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
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
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
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.