Confessions of a Shallow Thinker

Shallow waters

He’s shallow and superficial. There is nothing remotely meaningful or substantive about what he says or does. He’s judging others by standards that somehow don’t apply to him.

These are my thoughts about my father.

Forming quick opinions, based on shallow observations, is easy. We don’t need to do anything else because we know we’re right.

We think we’re more enlightened, more progressive, more conservative, more religious, more traditional, or more educated. Any form of “better than” is the result of shallow thinking.

My father judges the entire family based on his biased views and a false sense of superiority. His thoughts about me, for example, are not my truth. But over the years, they became his truth. And that’s the real damage of shallow thinking.

I can say the same about my own shallow judgments and thoughts. Luckily for me, I’m here to confess and atone for my superficiality.

The sins of shallow thinking

The scariest part about forming quick judgments is that we do it without noticing. It comes so naturally to us.

Shallow thinking is riddled with transgressions against others—and ourselves.

Emotionality and bias: We react to negative situations emotionally and without deeper thought. We might justify the reaction. But that doesn’t make it rational.

Emotional reactivity is an insatiable beast that’ll feed on any situation. I have a deep fear of becoming like my father and that created a negative loop; in the end I started following in his footsteps.

Harmful laziness: Shallow thought gives us a quick dose of egotistical satisfaction. We feel we’re superior and deep because someone else is superficial.

So why stop and dig deeper? Why question our assumptions? It’s too much work. It’s easier to jump to conclusions and move on to the next judgment.

Ignorance and arrogance: We think we know, based on shallow impressions. We don’t feel the need to question our thoughts and beliefs. And we get stuck in our own narrow views and miss the ample opportunities to learn and grow.

Harmful addiction: Keep thinking the same shallow thought for a while and it becomes a belief. As long as it remains unchallenged, it will become the default conclusion to many situations and it will seek validation wherever it can get it.

Disappointment and ingratitude: I haven’t seen one truly happy and contented person who wastes their time and energy judging others.

The irony is we end up judging ourselves using the same metrics. We chase shallow desires and experiences that lead to more disappointment. And in the end we have more negative views of ourselves and the world.

Shallow thinking may appear on the surface to give us some relief or closure. But it’s more damaging to our hearts and souls.

Once I admitted to being a shallow thinker, I let the light of awareness shine on this painful area of my life where I can do things differently.

Two choices to atone

The way I look at it, we have two options:

  1. When faced with a trivial situation, choose to simply accept that we don’t know much about the person or situation, and let it go.
  2. If the issue is important, take the time to think deeply about the it and explore all of its sides.

Let’s look at the two in more detail.

1 - Choose unknowing and let go.

In many situations, the most rational thing would be to drop the whole thought because it’s useless.

We can’t possibly know much about the inner workings of our own life, let alone that of others.

Maybe we don’t need to know. We can allow ourselves to observe and rest in unknowing.

“I don’t know” is a good place to be. We stop our programmed thoughts in their tracks.

I don’t know is:

Open to what comes up. We meet life’s situations with curiosity instead of preconceived judgment.

Free to not to get stuck in one thought or situation.

Nonjudgmental: we don’t need to get attached to one point of view.

Human: we don’t know much about life. We’re more curious than knowledgeable, more unaware than conscious, and more emotional than rational.

As much as the opinions and remarks of my father anger and frustrate me, I’m trying to let him think what he thinks. It’s his life and his point of view. I can’t change that. But I can change mine, or better yet eliminate it completely.

It’s not easy. My reactive thinking feeds my worst fears and insecurities. Stepping out of fear takes courage, awareness, and dedicated effort. But it’s worth the effort.

2 - Take a deep mental dive.

The way we think about ourselves and others forms our view of the entire world. And that in turn shapes our experience and enjoyment of life.

If we drop the shallow reactions, we’ll have room to look deeply at the few things that matter.

We then get to examine, learn, understand, and appreciate the substance in everything.

Our world is far from perfect. And it’s not going to be perfect any time soon. But in that imperfection lies the complexity and intrigue of the entire universe.

“Everything had nuance; everything had an unrevealed side or unexplored depths. Everything was worth looking at more closely.” – From Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

So, what’s it going to be? Drop it, or deeply explore it?

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