Google has today informed me that it’s Auguste Rodin’s 172nd birthday. If anyone is due a visit to Paris, we would strongly recommend a visit to the Rodin museum, which is a short walk across the road from Invalides.
It is one of the smaller museums in Paris and can easily be overlooked when there is so much else to see in this magnificent city. Yet it really is the most fascinating place with both the house and the gardens full of the most engaging and incredible work.
According to Wikipedia, one of Rodin’s most famous works, “The Thinker” was originally called “The Poet”.
This made me think!
Can you really be a poet without thinking? Do poets simply clear their minds and let creative ideas enter? And what exactly is a “thinker”?
Is it a philosopher? An academic? A Zen Master? A human being?
Can anyone be a “thinker” if they put their mind to it?
What distinguishes us from other animals is our capacity to think. We can think, consider, evaluate, re-evaluate, hypothesise, create, imagine, reason. We can then use our thoughts wisely, or unwisely. We can use our creative thoughts in writing for ourselves and others. We can come up with a theory that might actually change the world. We can change peoples’ lives through our thoughts, and we can empower ourselves by doing so.
Sometimes we put our trust in people who are known to be “thinkers” – to our own detriment. Watching a television programme last night, it was obvious that many people thought that Adolf Hitler was a “thinker”, and many agreed with his thoughts that the reparations inflicted on Germany after World War One were too extreme and debilitating. The people who drew up the Treaty of Versailles were thinkers too. They thought that putting such stringent economic and militaristic limitations on Germany would ensure that the leaders of the country would never be in a position to create such catastrophe once more.
They were wrong, but their thoughts at the time were generally agreed, and these were not foolish men. (I suspect that there wasn’t a woman present in the room)
Sometimes our thoughts are right at one moment in time, and sometimes our thoughts are wrong at a moment in time, and they can change either way and rightly so. Who wants to live in a stagnating world where our thoughts remain rigid and absolute? If Woodrow Wilson, Monsieur Clemenceau and David Lloyd George had their time again, surely they would have had many rethinks about what happened just outside Paris in 1919. I’m fairly confident that they spent their lives thinking, rethinking, evaluating and considering what they could do for the good of their people.
Thinking is important. Cognitive functioning, intellectualising, debating issues and fathoming the unknowns in this world are all important parts of our growth, but so too is not thinking. Sometimes trusting our intuition works best for us.
There are times when the only way forward is to not think. There are times when we need to think – and then need to stop thinking. There are times when we need to stop thinking completely and bring a mindful emptiness into our lives; a time when we stop thinking and empty our minds of every single thought within our heads.
How often do we do this? How often did those who historically are seen as great thinkers spend time not thinking?
And what of our children and our future generations? Do we afford them time to think, and time to not think?
What are we doing in our schools and our homes to ensure that there is balance between these two vital components in life?
We need our future generations to be independent thinkers but they need to be equipped with the necessary skills. In the dreadfully-named “Golden Time” in schools where children have a limited choice to do what they want (compared with time when they are not doing what they want??), it was found in many schools that children simply didn’t know what to do. They had been so used to being directed in their learning that they couldn’t think of how to spend their time when offered choice. That is a really sad indictment and one that we must learn from.
But we also want our children to be “non-thinkers”. We want them to have time in every day to relax and clear their over-burdened minds, in order for them to think more clearly in the future, in order for them to find themselves and know what they might like to do, in order for them to give their brains a bit of relief.
Later in the week, the Department of Education is going to be releasing the details of the New National Curriculum. Mr Gove would say that there is going to be plenty of “thinking” going on. There’s going to be lots of facts to absorb and lots of “things to do” – but is there really going to be time for proper thinking?
One doubts that it will be written into these new documents. One doubts even further that there will be an instruction for every school to offer some time in each day to ‘not’ think.
Our comments on this document will come later in the week, if the announcement is made. But irrespective of Mr Gove’s diktat, schools will be given some flexibility to develop their own curriculum in addition to what is going to be prescribed from afar.
Maybe, therefore, this is precisely the right time to consider what schools are going to do to ensure that we have a new generation of thinkers who know that there is a time when we should not think; a time when we can empty out our minds, enjoy silence and stillness, allow our inner thoughts and feelings to come to the surface, and not worry about the consequences.