Another Think Coming

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 31, 2018

Probably one of the most famous of all motivational slogans was first thought up in 1911 by Thomas J. Watson, the man who became head of IBM: His brain-wave was the single word: “Think.” But now that we have machines so “smart” that their ability to think is a matter for philosophical debate, we also have some very cynical variations on that slogan.

There was, for example, a popular novelty card which had two words on it: “THINK AHEAD.” But the last letters of the second word, approaching the right-hand edge of the card, were smaller and squashed together in order to get them in – the idea being that the person laying out this design had evidently not left enough space to fit all the letters in properly. In other words, he or she had obviously not thought ahead. There was another card of the same ilk, with only one word on it, which was presumably supposed to be the familiar slogan “THINK!” But it actually appears as “THIMK!” – again giving the message that somebody had obviously not done enough thinking.

You might be under the impression that thinking ahead is always preferable to the alternative. But, despite the current fashionability of meditation, there is one branch of our society that, in at least one respect, strongly disapproves of thinking ahead. And the distinction can be a matter of life and death.

I am thinking of the law, especially when it comes to the matter of killing. If you thought about it before doing it, the law calls that “pre-meditation,” and considers it a more serious crime than if you did it on a sudden impulse. The pre-meditated kind of killing is called murder. But if you can convince a jury that you just did it on the spur of the moment, you might get off with the lesser (though sexist-sounding) charge of “Manslaughter.” 

Ironically, meditation, as it is taught and practiced today, is specifically directed against thinking. As one of the many online instructors puts it, “If you notice your mind thinking, that’s okay, just bring your focus back to your technique.” (The “technique” being various methods to avoid thinking.)

So, if you do meditate, for goodness’s sake, don’t meditate about bumping somebody off. And if you must commit that nasty deed, try not to think about it in advance. If possible, act strictly on the spur of the moment. The classic case of this kind involves a husband catching his wife and her lover “in flagrante delicto,” which I probably don’t have to translate for you. Some cultures – traditionally even the French with their love of liberty and fraternity – tend to be much more sympathetic, in such cases, to the perpetrator, rather than to the victim, of the “crime passionelle.”

But, as far as the law is concerned, the idea of culpable thinking does not necessarily apply only to the taking of life. There are other forms of questionable behavior in which, legally, the key element of guilt is the matter of intent. Our law books still recognize the charming old concept of “Malice aforethought.” Did he really mean to do it, or was it all just an unfortunate accident? And accidents (a.k.a. “happenstance”) especially of the automobile-related variety, are indeed our most prevalent form of unpremeditated killing.

This takes us out of the world of law and into that of insurance, which in some ways is even more complex, because each company makes its own rules, and even one company’s rules may vary greatly when it comes to writing an individual policy. For example, you may wonder whether life insurance policies cover suicide – and the answer is that some do, and some do not – but even the ones that do usually require that the policy be in effect for two or three years before such coverage kicks in. That will give the insured plenty of time for pre-meditation.

Finally, since we began by discussing motivational slogans, another one which for a time had wide circulation was the exhortation to “DO IT NOW!” But this had a tendency to backfire. It is said that one owner of a small company put that message up all over his offices – but after a few weeks he took all the signs down. When asked why, he said, “It worked too well. Before I knew it, the bookkeeper had skipped with $20,000, the chief clerk eloped with my secretary – and the office boy threatened to beat me up!”


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