589 Words Essay on thinking for Oneself

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An incident at a picture exhibition brings out clearly what is wrong with us today. Two people were gazing at a picture, profusely admiring it. Suddenly one of them turned to the catalogue and discovered that it was not at all, as they had thought it to be, the work of a certain well-known artist. And immediately the two turned away from the picture they had been admiring found the right picture, and went into ecstasies before that.

Now I am not going to make fun of these people, because I am not sure that I don’t suffer from their weakness. The people who really think for themselves are very scarce. We are – most of us – second-hand thinkers, and second-hand thinkers are not thinkers at all. Those good people before the picture were not thinking their own thoughts, they were thinking what they thought was the right thing to think. They had been taught to admire the pictures of a certain artist, so that they praised anything they believed to be his, even when it wasn’t his.

It reminds me of the story of the two Italians who quarreled so long and so bitterly over the comparative merits of two famous Italian writers that at last they fought a duel. And as they lay dying on the ground one of them said to the other, “And to think that I have never read a line of them.” “Nor I, either,” said the other. Then they died. I do not suppose that story is true in fact, but it is true in spirit. Men are always dying for other people’s opinions, prejudices they have inherited from somebody else, ideas they have borrowed second-hand. Many of us go through life without ever having had a genuine thought of our own on any subject of the mind. We think in flocks, and once in the flock we go wherever the leading sheep takes us.

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It is not that we cannot think. It is that we are afraid to think. It is so much easier to go with the tide than against it, to shout with the crowd than to stand lonely and mistrusted in the midst of it. I would rather a man should think ignorantly than that he should be merely an echo. I once heard a certain gentleman gravely remark that he could never see anything in Shakespeare. I smiled at his simplicity, but I respected his courage. He couldn’t see anything in Shakespeare, and he was too honest to pretend that he could.

In the past the man that dared to think for himself ran the risk of being burned. We have liberated thought from the control of the policeman and the executioner since then, but in liberating it we have lost our respect for its independence and integrity. We are free to think as we please, and so most of us cease to think at all, and follow the fashions of thought as slavishly as we follow the fashions in clothes. The truth, I’m afraid, is that thought does not thrive on freedom, it only thrives under suppression. We need to have 0ur liberties taken away from us in order to discover that they are worth dying for.

Difficult Words: Went into ecstasies – expressed great joy and admiration, thrive-flourish, prosper.

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