You are what you think

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

What I ask could be more frightening than the transparency of the adage that you are what you think! Undisguised revelation! When I first heard the quip (admittedly not my own concoction) I was initially unimpressed, at least until my seer added "…especially as you leave the room". The immediacy of that supplement tended to vitalize the aphorism. It also heightened the disconnect which frequently exists between our private contemplations and our outward expression. There is apparently nowhere to hide!

 Even on occasions when there is a correspondence of mental and verbal, I believe that on the balance the intimacy of our thoughts mitigates against such uniformity. If for example we were enabled to take a look at a comparative graph of our thoughts and words throughout the day I surmise we’d be more than a bit ashamed of ourselves, maybe even startled or dismayed, to discover that what we say and what we think frequently do not jive. So often we fill the crucible of our lives (not to mention the canyon of our mouths) with a good deal of pollution and clutter. More cause to panic, however, is the identification of what it is we really do think. You will I am sure concede that it is not uncommon for each of us from time to time to say one thing yet think another. Ultimately however the dye which colours our emotions is that which is aligned with our thoughts as much as we may feign the contrary. Small wonder we frequently struggle within ourselves, having to decode what we contemporaneously say and think. And equally unsurprising – though initially astonishing – amidst such kerfuffle is that others claim to read us like a book! Attempting to disguise one’s thoughts is the amateur equivalent of trying to be a good liar, normally an unsuccessful feat!

 Of course what one thinks is not necessarily malicious or contriving, nor indeed embarrassing for whatever reason. One may for example be motivated by affection and attraction to contort one’s admissions, though probably with about as much success as trying to disguise a deep-rooted aversion. Either way though the fact remains that we are what we think. 


 Where this proverb assumes really sizable proportions is when it is applied not to what we think of others but to what we think of ourselves. As relevant to others, there is after all always room for reconsideration; but as operated upon ourselves, the inclination is far more inert. If we’re inclined to aggrandize or demonize ourselves, we frequently only poison the process further by attempting to act inconsistently. Once again, however, our thoughts will out and no amount of buffoonery or linguistic gymnastics will succeed to camouflage what’s really going on. The compression of inspiration and voice, like so many fundamentals of nature, is in the end not only the most productive but also the least unmerciful. How often has it been exclaimed, "I can’t go on pretending anymore!" Pointedly the biggest fool in that scenario is oneself. Yet it is the portrayed opaqueness of thought which stirs us to imagine that our behaviour is by comparison transparent. Such paradox!

 Assuming for the moment that one prefers not to live a lie, narrowing the gap between what one thinks and what one says is the challenge. First one must acknowledge that the force of what one thinks is not only palpable but also inescapable. Except as a nicety, there is no need to enquire into the decorousness or noteworthiness of one’s thoughts; all that matters is that they are your thoughts and that you are one and the same. It likely astonishes many of us to learn that other people actually prefer to know what we are thinking. It is not only the candidness which lubricates communication; more importantly it is the removal of the dead-heads and other casualties of misguided adventure. How we love to fritter away the little time that we have with idle fuss! It is far more improving – not to say expeditious – for oneself and others to dwell upon what one thinks rather than upon manufactured guff and pretense. Second one must believe in the value of one’s thoughts. I’m willing to bet that if you were to advance that admonition to anyone else you would have no hesitation approving its merit; but convincing oneself to accept it is quite another thing. Bludgeoned as we are by masses of external stimuli and models of conduct, generosity towards oneself is often wanting, a disposition made all the more awkward by that innate shyness which most of us secretly harbour about ourselves. Familiarity with our own carcass tends to diminish our charity; and yet it is those very same seemingly unglamourous thoughts which do everything to characterize our individuality. Besides, it is so much easier to sleep at night!