“Only when we turn thoughtfully toward what has already been thought will we be turned to use for what must still be thought” (Martin Heidegger).
AS BUSY AS WE ARE THESE DAYS, BEING THOUGHTFUL IS NOT EASY. Thinking requires time, and we don’t have much of that left over after we’ve ticked off the items on our “To Do” list. So looking back, we often realize that we’ve been thoughtless in various situations, simply because we were too hurried to be otherwise. At the pace life is lived in this age of the world, those who remain thoughtful are usually those who have more self-discipline than the rest of us. The thoughtful are those who deliberately slow down and . . . think!
One of the things that we need to think about is that which others have thought before us. Heidegger’s point is well taken: “Only when we turn thoughtfully toward what has already been thought will we be turned to use for what must still be thought.” We hurt ourselves when we commit the sin of “chronological snobbery” and dismiss the value of anything that is not new or contemporary. But that said, think with me now about two different kinds of thoughtfulness.
Careful thought. One meaning of “thoughtful” is “contemplative.” The thoughtful person is one who ponders and considers what is the best path to follow. He or she might be described as being “pensive.” Some are more inclined in that direction than others, obviously, but if we never take the time to consider (a) what is true, and (b) what we ought to do, then our deeds are going to do damage sooner or later.
Concern for others. To be thoughtful also means to be considerate of others. And this, I believe, is the highest kind of thoughtfulness. It involves not only stopping to think of others but anticipating their needs and wishes. So thoughtful people, in this sense, are those who think of others with a noticeable degree of wisdom and sensitivity. Deep down, of course, this concern is a product of love. It comes from “charity” in the older sense. And if we’re too busy to anticipate the needs of others and serve them, then we’re simply too busy to love.
What is charity?
It’s silence when your words would hurt
It’s patience when your neighbor’s curt
It’s deafness when scandal flows
It’s thoughtfulness for another’s woes.