The characteristic that most clearly defines what it means to be educated, I believe, is the quality of thoughtfulness.
I’m influenced by the thinking of Abraham Maslow. I put thoughtfulness at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, along with self-actualization.
Schools so completely emphasize the lower rungs of this pyramid — the development of a knowledge base, the development of specific skills — that the upper rungs are generally ignored. Schools do what they are rewarded to do, and developing thoughtfulness simply isn’t on the evaluation list.
We are developing a whole culture that defines education only in terms of the lower rungs of the pyramid — “the need to know and understand” discrete knowledge and skills — and misses the point that the purpose for developing the lower rungs is the development of the upper rung. It is within the upper rungs — thoughtfulness, self-actualization — that the hope for our better future lies. It is there that we find the inspiration, the creativity, and the insight needed for our future.
We have a debased view of what it means to be educated. The upper rungs of Maslow’s pyramid are generally ignored.
I imagine that Hamlet, as Prince of Denmark, had a top notch education for his time. He, no doubt, knew a lot of history, literature, science. He, no doubt, was an excellent writer. Shakespeare shows him to be a brilliant poet. I imagine he would have knocked the socks off of the Denmark Graduation Test, if there was one, or the SAT. But the question is: to what degree was he educated? To what degree was he thoughtful?
I got to thinking about Hamlet the other day, when I heard someone comment, “After all, the prototypical thoughtful person was Hamlet, and he wound up dead.”
There is really a distrustfulness of actual thoughtfulness — there is a feeling that thoughtfulness leads to trouble, or worse. But the opposite is the case. It is the lack of thoughtfulness that leads to trouble.
As the play unfolds, Hamlet reveals that, in fact, he is not thoughtful — not as I’m defining thoughtfulness, anyway. Hamlet’s mental turmoil — his dithering about, his making brilliant analysis, his sounding logical — should not be mistaken for thoughtfulness.
I recently reread the plot of Hamlet. I had forgotten how many people were killed in that play — bodies lying everywhere. Hamlet was responsible for the mess. I’ll not accept the notion that this destruction was the result of the actions of a thoughtful person.
Hamlet dithered and debated, but, in the end, Hamlet allowed his brilliant mind to be obsessed by one point of view — a view of revenge and duty. A mind obsessed is not a mind that is thoughtful.
Humans have evolved these millions of years and nature has endowed us with the tools we need to survive. We have an amazing capacity for insight. Brilliant minds misuse the great gifts nature has given to us and, driven by revenge or duty or religion or country or greed or power, such brilliant minds, if given a chance, are certain to bring the human race to destruction. We need to redefine what it means to be brilliant, what it means to be educated, and emphasize that our highest calling is to be thoughtful. We need to create a new culture of thoughtfulness. I’m encouraged that our new president may take the lead in doing so.
Suicide bombing is a great tragedy. A suicide bomber is driven to make a deadly, bloody mess of things, and some suicide bombers, like Hamlet, have, no doubt, been brilliant students and impressive thinkers. The grievances and thinking that guide the actions of a suicide bomber, no doubt, to the bomber seems compelling and logical. But, a mind absorbed in a prison of thought is not a thoughtful mind, regardless of how it spins its wheels — no matter if that mind is a poor Palestinian’s, or the Prince of Denmark’s.