Before You Call Someone Stupid, Consider How Much Time You Spend Thinking

You may have a luxury that others lack.

How much time do you spend each day thinking?

I don’t mean thinking about what you’ll have for lunch or what you’ll wear for tonight’s date, I mean thinking thinking. About ethics, politics, whether or not God exists. I mean big thinking.

I know I think a lot. I think about reincarnation as afterlife, that perhaps we will cycle through every conscious being in the universe until we have experienced every life, because we all belong to a greater oneness.

I think about whether the world would be better if, instead of countries, everyone lived in self-sustaining city-states with a chosen brethren of like-minded individuals.

I think about a future where every child is genderless by default and you don’t “declare” your gender until a certain age.

I don’t know the answers to these thoughts, or even whether they have merit. But the point is, I think hard about them.

I think about these things in the minutes before I fall asleep, when I’m chopping vegetables, watching television, or going out on walks.

But not everyone has the time, energy, and resources to think as deeply and freely as I do.

More importantly, the beliefs I hold — especially the ones I deem ethical, moral, and progressive — are not the result of my being a certain type of moral person. Rather, they come from hours upon hours of deep thinking.

We like to think of thinking as a free activity. Except it isn’t.

Thinking takes up real estate. By thinking about this article right now, I can’t think about what I should eat for dinner or when I should exercise today. I’ve shunted out those thoughts because I deem this article more important, even though publishing it will not guarantee me substantial earnings.

But what if I didn’t have enough money to make rent this month? What if I had a child and they were sick, and I couldn’t find someone to take care of them while I put in more hours at work?

The beliefs I hold — especially the ones I deem ethical, moral, and progressive — are not the result of my being a certain type of moral person. Rather, they come from hours upon hours of deep thinking.

What if, instead of walking down the street marinating in my thoughts about afterlife and utopia, I was worried about being stopped by police for frivolous reasons? Or that I would be jumped by someone because the affordable neighbourhood I live in is rife with crime?

What if, instead of thinking in the moments before sleep, I fall asleep immediately because I am so exhausted by my sick child, overtime work, racist cops, burglaries, rent, and putting food on the table?

We like to think of thinking as intrinsic, that anyone can do it if they just sat down and thought. That if you only spent a moment to think about it, you too will agree that queer people should get married, teens should have access to contraceptives, trans people should use washrooms that align with their gender identity, and so on.

But thinking isn’t entirely intrinsic. I don’t believe what I believe about justice because I thought hard enough about equal rights. I believe the things I do because I talked to people further in their thinking journey, because I went to university and had to think for homework, and because I read texts that critically examine issues.

Not everyone has mentors. Not everyone can access university. Not everyone has the time and energy to read an analysis in The Economist.

We like to think of thinking as effortless, that anyone can do it if they invested a tiny bit of energy. After all, thinking doesn’t require you to move.

But thinking takes effort, a very good deal of effort, effort that not everyone can scrounge up after taking care of their basic needs.

Not everyone has mentors. Not everyone can access university. Not everyone has the time and energy to read an analysis in The Economist.

Not everyone wants to end their day reading Freakonomics or watching speculative fiction that posits a non-capitalist utopia. Some people only have enough energy to process a reality show about home décor.

Besides, some of the issues we progressives deem basic require mental kung-fu to “get.”

Here’s an example. Many of us — I daresay most of us — are told to save money.

It seems innocuous enough, even reasonable. Don’t buy fancy things, save money. Shop the sales, save money. Go to a cheaper store, save money.

Inundated with this belief from a young age, saving money becomes akin to a natural law for many of us. But spending the least amount of money possible isn’t the most ethical thing.

Inexpensive goods like the ones in the fast fashion industry contribute to poor labour conditions in the supply chain, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste.

Some of the issues we progressives deem basic require mental kung-fu to “get.”

Imagine two plain black T-shirts. One of them is $10 from a big-box multinational company that uses sketchy labour practices and unsustainable materials.

The other is a $50 shirt that uses ethically sourced labour, sustainable materials, fair trade practices, and the CEO redistributes their wealth to their workers.

If you, like me, were taught from the moment you understood basic monetary economics that you should save money, you would feel an immediate pull towards the $10 T-shirt. After all, it’s identical in appearance to the other T-shirt. Heck, it might even last longer.

Yet, the $50 T-shirt is technically the superior choice.

Of course, not everyone can afford the $50 T-shirt. But even among the people who technically can, I believe most people would have a hard time justifying buying a $50 T-shirt when an identical one is $40 cheaper.

Convincing yourself that the $50 T-shirt is better requires some pretty intense mental kung-fu to overcome indoctrinated beliefs. Not everyone has the time, energy, and resources to do this.

When we meet someone who espouses what we deem as backward beliefs, we’re quick to label them ignorant, stupid, naïve, or even downright evil.

But before you label someone as such, consider their background. Do they have the time, energy, and resources to think like you?

I’m not saying we should excuse people for harmful beliefs if they are less privileged than we are. There are some beliefs that should be a no-brainer. We should all agree that violence is undesirable, that women shouldn’t be raped, and that children should be cared for, for example.

Lacking the Privilege to Think is an explanation, not an excuse, and that makes all the difference. Because if we know the cause of a problem, we can fix it rather than slap a label on it and shun it from our lives.

But before you label someone as such, consider their background. Do they have the time, energy, and resources to think like you do?

We can prioritize education and ensure that every child has adequate time, energy, and resources to think critically at school.

We can prioritize giving every working adult a living wage so people can do more than worry about food, shelter, and other basic needs that are basic human rights to have.

We can make reliable information accessible and free. Perhaps the more privileged among us can subsidize quality journalism, thereby removing paywalls and ensuring everyone access to fact-checked, accurate sources of information.

And if we meet a so-called stupid person, perhaps instead of calling them names, we hold a genuine conversation with them. Let us exchange thoughts, respecting them as an equally intelligent human being.

And before you call someone ignorant or stupid for not thinking, do some thinking yourself.

Li Charmaine Anne (she/they) is a Canadian author and freelance writer on unceded Coast Salish territories (aka Vancouver, Canada). Her work has appeared in literary journals and magazines and she is at work on her first novel, a contemporary YA about queer Asian skater girls. To read Charmaine’s articles for free (no subscription required), sign up for her newsletter.

(She/They) Author on unceded Coast Salish territories (Vancouver, Canada). At work on first novel. Get links to read my stuff for free: https://bit.ly/2MleRqJ

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