Common Sense Thinking

We have minds that are ready to notice cause and effect. There are examples all around us: if we let go of an object it will fall to the floor; if we press a switch the lights come on; if we pour water on something then it becomes wet. If you watch young children exploring their world you can see them learning about the effects of their actions. By the time we’re a bit older the rules of cause and effect has become so natural to us that it just seems like it’s common sense.

The rules of cause and effect describe the world around us very well.

The problem is though: this simple cause-and-effect of thinking doesn’t work so well when we apply it to our feelings. Our common-sense way of thinking about the world tells us that it is situations that make a feel a certain way. For example, if a friend walks past you on the street without saying hello, we become worried and upset that we have done something wrong.

That example might seem okay on the surface, but it can’t be how the world really works. If events always led directly to feeling then everyone would be affected in the same way by an event – we would all like the same movies and dislike the same foods. This is obviously not the case. When one football teams wins a game only one set of fans are happy, and if your asked a group of people to sing in front of an audience some would feel excited whereas others would be horrified. Clearly things are not as straightforward as the seem.

In today’s world some people that hate what’s going on and others who love it. There will be cause and effect. Most people don’t think about the consequences any more they just act. It makes the world a very dangerous place. And with neither one see the circumstances clearly. It only seems that God is the only way out of the situation we are in.

It how we interpret events- the meaning that we give to them- that gives rise to our feelings. This explains why two people experiencing the same event can react in completely different ways.

The idea of how we interpret events matters is not new. Nearly 2000 years ago the Greek philosopher Epictetus said:

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by principles and notions which they form concerning g things.

Shakespeare said something similar in 1602:

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

It may not be a new idea, but it is a powerful one. It explains why some people are pleased when given an opportunity to sing in front of a crowd when other people would be terrified at the prospect. It can explain why some people often feel very anxious ( perhaps they have a habit of interpreting situations as threatening) or very sad (perhaps they have a habit of interpreting situations very negatively.

We may not be able to change the situations we find ourselves in or the people we meet, we are in charge of how we interpret events. The attitude we bring to the situation and the perspective we choose to take, determines how we feel. Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, said this most powerfully:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

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