As a man thinketh in his heart

Published 4:28 pm Monday, July 6, 2020

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I had an interesting conversation with my dentist the other day. I was in for a root canal, and he had injected me with enough deadening stuff (yes, I’m using the technical term) that when I spoke I sounded like someone coming off a three-day bender. In the way of dentists, that’s when he chose to chat.

He was wearing a mask, and his assistant had on a full-face shield. I wasn’t certain if they understood that I wanted dental work and not to have a kidney removed. But while he was dressed as though I was a walking infection machine, and while my face was half immobile, we agreed that this is the oddest summer of our lives.

We talked about COVID-19 and agreed that pretty much everything we’ve been told about it has turned out to be wrong. We discussed the COVID shutdown and how the liquor stores are open but the churches are closed. We discussed the Black Lives Matter movement (I’m considering a column about it; dare I?). We touched on the upcoming presidential election, and we agreed that all of it together is enough make your head spin.

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Then, he started drilling on me.

What happened to simple times? Shouldn’t we be enjoying July, watching baseball, talking football, and grilling hamburgers? Shouldn’t the biggest thing we complain about be the heat?  Instead, we are all running around like chickens with our heads cut off, arguing instead of getting along, burning instead of talking, and generally just missing the point of it all.

I’ve always been a member of the attitude-is-everything school. They tell us that Solomon is the wisest man who ever lived, and he gave us the famous “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” from Proverbs 23:7.

With that, how should we be thinking?

First, what are we putting inside our heads? We have to be careful about that. I heard a preacher talk about a young mother whose toddler dropped a spoon, and she wouldn’t let him touch it again until she’d disinfected it. That same mother had a horrible movie on while she fed the child. Her priorities seem a bit out of whack.

My great-nephew reached out to me from Florida to tell me that he liked when I called television the big box with the little brain. Let’s build on that.

So, what should we do?  ay I suggest a radical solution, a solution so far out of the norm, so far out of the mainstream, so far out of the modern world as to place me solidly into the category of “radical”?  My suggestion: read a book.

Books are wonderful things. They take us places, teach us things, open us to new possibilities, and, if we let them, they make us better people.

Daniel Coyle wrote “The Talent Code” and he followed it up with “The Little Book of Talent.”  Those books rocked my world. He believed that success leaves clues, so he began looking for success. And he found it in the oddest, most unexpected places. He found one tennis club in Moscow that produced in a three-year period more top 20 women’s tennis players than the entire United States. He discovered an inner-city school in California that took its poor, underprivileged student body, got them interested in math (the toughest subject they taught), and they went from a school that tested at the bottom to the top 4 percent. Neither the tennis school nor the inner-city school had fancy supplies or any money to speak of. Yet they found a way to excel.  Want to know what he found, and want to learn how to apply it to your life? Read the books.

Malcolm Gladwell is an essayist for The New Yorker magazine who was drawn to the story of David and Goliath. Rather than be satisfied with Sunday School lessons, he thought deeply, and he and came up with the most interesting theory that David actually went into that battle better armed than Goliath. His opening chapter is “The Advantages of Disadvantages,” which, interestingly enough, is precisely what Coyle wrote about in “The Talent Code.”

Want to learn about how one small person who is committed to a great cause can alter history?  Take a fresh look at J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings—the book, not the movies. One little man, unqualified for battle and untrained in the ways of war, left his out-of-the-way small town and found himself caught up in events that defined an epoch. His armaments were not sword and spear, but wisdom and forgiveness. With those as his weapons, everything changed.

There is a great debate about whether Moby Dick is a great book. I think it is. It starts out with the idea that men are always drawn to the sea, takes on the topic of mad obsession, and tells us a thing or two about race relations (yes, race relations) along the way.

Interested in politics? Read The Communist Manifesto. It makes communism sound like the most wonderful idea in the world. Then pivot right into The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn to see what a hell on earth socialism and communism really bring about.

Ray Bradbury was a genius who taught us about books by giving us a character whose job was to burn them. Fahrenheit 451 was set in a future in which books were illegal — we don’t want people learning and thinking, do we? Even though it was written before the iPhone, he predicted a day when people spent no time with other people but spent plenty of time with ear plugs (he called them sea shells) in their ears; a day when every house had banks of televisions on its walls and used them to narcotic effect. And the powers-that-be didn’t want people to have a fair understanding of history.  Does any of that sound familiar?  His prescience was astounding.  I dare you to read it and not realize that he is telling us our history before it was written.

And, dare I say it, why not pick up the Bible? It is clearly the most fascinating book I’ve ever encountered. The story of redemption is told in a way so simple that a child can understand it, yet with so many layers and using so many methods that you will exhaust your time on this planet plumbing its depths. It is the world’s biggest seller for a reason. Did you know that you can read that entire Bible in about 78 hours? Why not give it a whirl?

It’s summer, and the world’s gone a little mad. While insanity seems to be taking the wheel, why not spend some time reacquainting ourselves with the books that taught us to think, and why we should think.

Let’s not spend our time complaining about the wind, or expecting it to change. Rather, let’s change our sails.  Picking up a good book and turning off the big box with the little brain is a good place to start.