When I Learned To Think For Myself

Years ago I stood in my martial arts uniform in front of a table.  Behind the table sat a young man.  A young teen aged man.  He was testing me.  He was quizzing me on my terminology for a promotion test.

It didn’t matter to me that he was much younger than I.   I respected his rank and what he had achieved to be sitting behind that table.

I respected him even more after the test.

He asked me questions pertaining to the rank I was testing for.  He was asking me questions pertaining to the information I had been given to study.

I regurgitated everything back that I had learned from those papers.

I told him how the warriors defended their country.  How they worked diligently and persevered to do what had to be done.  How they trained.  How they were disciplined, loyal and devoted to their country.  Soldiers.

He listened to my rote answers patiently.

Then he said “how do you live these things?  For your country?”



That wasn’t on the paper…

There was nothing on that paper about me.  It was historical.  It was about these fella’s that had lived and fought  two thousand years ago.

I stumbled and had no idea how to step off of the papers I had studied, and apply concepts and tenets to my own life.

I wasn’t a soldier.   And even though I was working hard on my martial arts I wasn’t a warrior either.  I am not graceful when I stumble.

He waited patiently to give me a chance to pull back from my free falling.

It was one of the best lessons I received from martial arts.  From this young man.  He hadn’t lived but half as long as I, but he already knew how to think for himself.  Learn about something, and take from it lessons he could apply to his own world.

I still stumble.  But I’m a little more graceful.

Thinking for one’s self isn’t always graceful.  But it is truly the best way.

I thank him, often.

You wouldn’t believe the world that opened up when I learned to think for myself.

31 thoughts on “When I Learned To Think For Myself

  1. I can’t imagine not thinking for myself. Sometimes I wish that I might try it, but I quickly take it back! The thought is horrible! I like the idea of which you speak, always remaining teachable.


    • It amazes me how I lived in a box. I believed what people told me. I didn’t push to know more or discover anything. I admire anyone who asks, pursues, and delves until they form their own opinion. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind others disagreeing with me or arguing with me. It’s nice to know others think for themselves and it is a quality I admire.


  2. When I was taking lessons from my last in-person guitar instructor (A Jazz player) after moving to the city I live in, one thing he told me as we were going over theory that none of my previous guitar instructors had ever told me is that “It’s not what is in your head, but what is in your heart that matters.’. I took this to heart as much as possible. Unfortunately, it was my final lesson with the man, because after he told me that I stopped taking lesson (doesn’t mean I never stopped learning new things).

    I used to wait outside his lesson room and listen to him playing old styles of Jazz (really speedy, 1930’s stuff), and the clerks would talk shit about what he was playing rather than how good and tight he was playing it (which he was). I respected him more than the clerks, because at least he stuck to his guns with what he liked and wanted to play and at that point his comment made a lot more sense to me.


    • I have seen, and am probably guilty of, people tearing down someone else’s ability because of jealousy. Or fear. Or inability. It is still amazing to me how less threatened I am by others these days because I better understand we all have skills, abilities and dreams. I think a lot of wisdom comes from a man/woman who knows what is in their heart. And knows how to live it. I’m with you on that all the way.


  3. Colleen – to talk the youth and to the elderly – always give us something new … and it can be a true eye opener – there is so many smart young people out there, but we don’t really take the time to listen to them …


    • Thank you ! I wouldn’t want a day to go by that I don’t exclaim in my head or even out loud about learning or experiencing something new. This young fellow was (and is) quite wise.


    • Oh I like this! “I wonder whose thought I’m carrying in my head.” Isn’t it amazing that within us we can actually carry someone else’s thoughts. Ideas. Ramblings? From their head to our head. WOW!


  4. I sometimes think that’s a big part of the problem with the way children are taught in public schools now. They’re taught to take tests, not to think for themselves. Because of this, they struggle when they go to college or when they go to work unless they’re given a list of things to memorize and regurgitate. We should all learn to think for ourselves. I stumble too, but that’s okay. At least we’re trying. 🙂


    • We are trying. 🙂 And stumble I do. Daaaaaaaaaaily! It may seem silly to some, but there are those of us (I suspect there may be others) who truly did not know to think for ourselves. Sad. But I suspect it is true. I would be fine if I was the only one, but I don’t think I was…..


  5. I’ve met many wise youngsters and many foolish elders. Experience isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for common sense, foresight or dignity.

    Starting to wonder if you will ever run out of inspiring stories!


    • Great comment Steven. I wish I’d have thought of it !!!! 😉 You are chock full of wisdom yourself. I like that you added “dignity” to it as well.

      No worries, I will certainly write some ridiculousness. I always do. 😉 But, I hope that I don’t ever live a day without someone inspiring me in some way.


  6. This is pretty interesting when I think about how it applies to myself. I don’t think I really do a good job thinking for myself all of the time but there is one area that I have made a conscious effort to do so. I was never “taught” how to create art. I know I am not the best artist and many times have longed to take a class to learn how to create better art. After much thinking on this subject I decided that actually being told how to paint or draw might interfere with my love for this hobby. Of course I fluctuate on this thinking too sometimes!


  7. So … how did you do that day?

    As for thinking for ourselves … sometimes I have to stop when I am go-go-going and my daughter asks me something. I still give rote answers … whch works sometimes, but I have caught myself more than on an occasion just stopping and thinking, wait … that is so wrong.

    As for learning from those younger … nods…I have found that they might think differently … but it is not necessarily incorrect. And I watch sometimes and think … can I do that too?


    • On that day? I passed the test. But the most important lesson of that day was not the physical test. It has stuck with me so well that I can see him, sitting there, and see his facial expression when he asked me.

      I think the younger folks are more honest with their thoughts. They don’t filter, or try to fancy them up. They have them and share them.

      I’ve been there, with my children as well. It’s amazing how many millions and billions of human beings have gone through this, and yet we are still learning it anew for ourselves. 😉


  8. I was trained when I was young to do as I was told and not think for myself. Thank God I wasn’t a good learner because who knows what would have happened to my sisters and me. As always Colleen you made me think today. That is why I so cherish you and your posts.


    • Why thank you LexiesNana! What a wonderful compliment. I, however, was slow on the uptake for thinking for one’s self. I know I did think, but was always trying to hide it. I have a tub full of notebooks where I shared my ‘thoughts’. But even at that, I wrote in code. Never directly. Always hiding. What a relief to be free! 🙂


  9. This is such an important lesson, and I think we need to be reminded over and over to be confident in thinking for ourselves. There are a lot of competing messages that “get in there” without being invited. 🙂 I went to my granddaughter’s TKD belt test tonight. I love her martial arts instruction!


    • A good martial arts instructor can be such a benefit to any student, of any age. I’m thrilled for your granddaughter that you went. That is MORE important. 🙂 I used to have kids, and adults, who tested and no one was there….

      You make a great point about the “competing messages”. I wish I had understood this concept long before I did. Or, felt comfortable with taking those competing messages and coming to a conclusion of my own!


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