What Were They Thinking?
Other people’s choices—their behaviors, politics, precautions or lack thereof—can astound me. My rhetorical question radiates disapproval. It drowns out the literal question, “What were they thinking?”
Judgment has its place, e.g. the courtroom or the voting booth. But without curiosity, cursory judgment clouds understanding. Even murder mystery novelists plant clues to motive as well as means and opportunity.
Thinking like a historian means exploring evidence for reasoning and context, not merely right and wrong. It means making room for nuance and complexity. To understand does not oblige us to condone. It can get us past stereotypes and assumptions. It may even help us discern what they were really thinking.
12/23/2020 07:13:09 am
"Unencumbered by the thought process" is a lovely phrase! Alas, I think it's all too easy to suppose only the people who agree with me could have reached their views through thought. At the time of the 1990-91 Gulf War, a friend who opposed the war complained of her husband's support for it. "I wish he would think for himself!" she said.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.