I took this picture on one of my nature outings. Nearly every day I take pictures in the woods and wetlands behind my house in the Pacific Northwest. I’m certainly no John James Audubon or Bindi the Jungle Girl, but I am slowly learning to identify flora and fauna that I see on a regular basis.

Of great help to me are a couple of apps: Merlin Bird ID and PictureThis. Google Lens also can be helpful, except for that time when it identified a blurry raccoon as a New Guinean long-nosed bandicoot.

When I saw this bird, I didn’t know what it was. It looked a bit like the juvenile European starlings I’d seen. In other words, brown. That’s pretty much all I could tell. When I got home, I uploaded the picture to the Merlin Bird ID app, and the result came back: American robin.

Say what? Robins are orange! That was my initial reaction, and that’s why I missed the identification on my own. I’ve seen a million robins, but I was off track in thinking that robins are orange. More accurately, robins’ breasts are orange and their heads and backs are brown. All I could see of this bird was its head and back. All I could see was brown. As soon as the app identified the bird as a robin, I noticed the tiny bit of orange breast that can be seen in the photo. I also noticed (yet again) that my critical thinking skills have room to grow.

I love it when this sort of thing happens. It reminds me that my thinking can be distorted by perspective and a bias for familiarity. I missed the ID because of my perspective; I could see only brown. I missed the ID because it looked a bit like another bird in my miniscule bird repertoire.

Too bad this distorted thinking isn’t limited to wildlife identification (although even then it can be lamentable if we mistake a grizzly for a Great Dane). We do it more often than we realize. The good news is that we can train our brains to think more effectively, to sharpen our critical thinking skills. Being aware of our perspectives and biases moves us in the right direction. Listening to the perspectives of others takes us even further.

Let’s train ourselves to think more effectively. Let’s remember that the robin isn’t just orange.

We’ve all done it. We’ve inspired a facepalm with a thinking malfunction. But there are ways to minimize facepalms (and worse). Follow these tips to keep your brain out of autopilot, and you’ll see improvement in every area of life. Because thinking is kinda important.

THINKING TIP 1

Make the effort. Arguably, the number one reason why people skip the thinking step is because they don’t want to take the time to slow down and deliberately think … before speaking, before acting, before solving a problem, before making a decision.

Don’t let your brain be a couch potato. Making the effort now will save you from grief later. If you stop to think, you might decide not to buy that velvet painting of Dennis Rodman because you realize that you wouldn’t have money left over for a Maui vacation.

“Our minds are lazier than our bodies.”
— François de La Rochefoucauld —

THINKING TIP 2

Check your biases. Is your prejudice against clowns the reason why you blame them every time you can’t find your keys? There’s a possibility that you left them in the pocket of your seersucker jacket. Also, just because you love Betty White — I will break this to you gently — it doesn’t mean that she’s right about absolutely everything.

“A great many people think they are thinking
when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
— William James —

THINKING TIP 3

Remember your paradigms. If you’re a middle-aged neo-Druid male from Bavaria, realize that you see the world through that lens and that other people don’t. Try to think outside of your box. You’ll better understand the issues, others, and yourself.

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
— Anais Nin —

THINKING TIP 4

Realize what you’re doing instead of thinking, and make the switch. Here are a few common substitutes for thinking:

  • Reactions • Snapping turtles are capable of these. You’re not a snapping turtle.
  • Emotions • Emotions are swell, but they should be chaperoned by thoughts, and vice versa.
  • Assumptions • Fill in the blanks with facts, not assumptions. If facts are not available, consider probabilities and possibilities, but be cautious about drawing conclusions. This is especially important when it’s about people.

“Assumptions are unopened windows that foolish birds fly into,
and their broken bodies are evidence gathered too late.”
— Bryan Davis —

THINKING TIP 5

Develop the skill of accurately identifying a statement as a fact, an error, a thesis, a belief, or an opinion. You’ll get way off course if you think that fortune cookies are Chinese or that the Bible teaches eternal suffering in hell. You’ll be frustrated if you demand proof for matters of faith. You’ll be considered obnoxious if you assert that your opinion about the Norwegian curling team’s trousers is correct.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to
entertain a thought without accepting it.”
— Aristotle —

Each time you practice one of these thinking skills, it’s easier to do it the next time, and it eventually becomes natural. You’ll increasingly see how thinking and thoughtfulness can help keep you out of trouble, increase your influence, maximize your success, and make more people like you. I kid you not, because thinking affects absolutely everything.

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”
— Marcus Aurelius —

You might remember a couple of years ago when then Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the Bible to defend the Trump administration’s enforcement of immigration law.

What exactly did Sessions say in a speech to law enforcement officers on June 14, 2018? I checked four sources and came up with two different versions. (That should remind us to check multiple sources and realize that errors are made.)

Version 1:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” (USA Today and The Independent)

Version 2:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” (New York Times and Washington Post)

Romans 13:1 says this:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are appointed by God.”

WHAT ROMANS 13:1 MEANS (MAYBE)

What did Paul mean? We can make some reasoned guesses. Some say that Paul was being sarcastic or appeasing authorities he knew would intercept his mail. The Greek word he used to describe authorities in Romans 13:1 is a word he used at other times to mean “morally superior” or “excellent”, so it could be argued that he meant that people should submit only to morally superior authorities. We get some insight by considering what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In other words, we should follow those who follow Christ.

WHAT ROMANS 13:1 DOES NOT MEAN (DEFINITELY)

We are unlikely to determine Paul’s exact meaning simply by looking at one or two texts. What we can do, however, is know for sure what Paul did not mean, and that is incredibly important.

Let’s leave Paul for a moment. Remember Daniel in the lions’ den? Daniel said something similar to what Paul wrote:

“The Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and … He appoints over it whomever He wills” (Daniel 5:21).

Does that mean that Daniel always obeyed earthly rulers? Nope. In the very next chapter, Daniel learned of a new law in the kingdom and immediately broke that law in front of open windows for all the world to see. Cue the lions. After God rescued him, Daniel claimed, “I have committed no crime.” He had zero regard for an earthly law that was in violation of God’s law.

Back to Paul. He wrote Romans 13:1, and he lived a life of civil disobedience. He was arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately executed by order of Nero.

Perhaps we can’t know for sure what Paul and Daniel meant by their similar statements, but we can know for sure that they did not mean that people should obey civil authorities no matter what. Check out Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a more recent example of Godly civil disobedience.

This being said, it is important to note that Daniel, Paul, and Bonhoeffer didn’t confront all civil authority with impertinence. They broke human laws only when those laws were in conflict with God’s laws.

WHAT WE SHOULD DO ABOUT IT

How important it is for us to discern whether laws and authorities are right and good! The best way to make that determination is to be clear what is right and good, and there’s no better source for that than the Bible — properly understood and applied. We must not pluck passages out of context. Above all, we must seek to know and reflect the heart of God. Again, Bible study is the best way to undertake that endeavor.

At least Jeff Sessions got us talking, studying, and (I hope) thinking. Some have the task of governing. The rest of us have the task of discerning whether that governance is to be respected or rejected. May we choose well.

Feeling inundated with information about COVID-19? Before that, perhaps it was the impeachment or Brexit or The Bachelor finale. How do you know what bits of information are true? Here are a few ways to get closer to the truth about anything:

1

Consult multiple reliable sources. See where the consensus lies. Consensus is not always an indicator of truth, but it usually lines up with other evidence.

2

Follow the evidence. Just like a detective, follow leads. See where the weight of evidence lies.

3

Use common sense. If it doesn’t sound right, there’s probably a reason for that. Don’t just automatically accept or reject information; think it through for yourself.

4

Be comfortable with uncertainty. In the absence of proof, file the information under “possible” or “likely” or “unlikely”.

5

Desire the truth. If you have a bias for what you want to believe rather than for the truth, you’re in trouble. A sincere desire for the truth — whatever it is — is the best way to find the truth.

Especially with information that affects our health and lives, it’s important to sort truth from error. In these days when we’re all being careful with where we go and what we touch, let’s remember also to be careful with information.