I have recently been curious about the timing in which most human beings purposefully choose to rationally and hopefully strategically think about each of their individual thoughts, words, or actions. It seems to me that each human being desires, most of whom do so consciously, to live a life of purpose and meaning; that at the end of each person’s efforts would be the reward of both accomplishing their individualistic sense of purpose, whether predetermined or realized retroactively, as well as aligning with the more broad yet fluidly defined sense of societal accomplishment. Therefore, it is important to better understand how critical the act of intentional thought is to realizing this sense of one’s purpose, and if it is deemed critical, to further evaluate such practice to better understand how to not only grow but master the ability to think critically.
Due to the raw scale of thought in which each human being participates on a daily or even hourly basis, it seems preposterous that any one person should actively and intentionally think about each of their actions ahead of time. This would seem to imply that if this could be accomplished, it could be possible to plan and coordinate each action with precision. However, we know this to be impossible, as life rarely if ever occurs within the confines of a statistical model or mathematical equation — there are almost always exceptions to each rule. Therefore, over time, I believe that there have generally developed two sides of this difficult to define equation of purpose in which people tend to arrive at similar outcomes. There are those who think before they act and those who act before they think. I define these two realities as the sage vs. the soldier, respectively.
Though these two realities are separate, they are not inherently exclusive. Each man or woman will, over the course of their lifetime (and even over the course of each individual day), undoubtedly revert into both of these two realities, intermixing moments of being a sage with moments of being a soldier. It is rather unlikely as mentioned above for any one person to completely adhere to one reality. Even so, I do believe that it is possible for us to parse through enough evidence for each person to determine with mild certainly the proclivity which that specific person has towards their dominant reality — either that of a sage or soldier.
SAGE vs. SOLDIER
While neither reality is inherently better than the other, it is curious to note that those who are generally inclined to be a sage before a soldier are therefore then challenged with identifying which battles to participate in and which to pass up. On the other hand, for those generally inclined towards being a soldier before a sage, challenge lies in the difficulty of interpreting completed battles through the correct lens in order to improve the odds of continued victory. For the sage, inaction due to overthinking is the great danger, failing to ever move beyond the theoretical to the necessary work of fighting. For the soldier, great danger lies in expectation that thinking is always relegated moot by the reality of constant fighting, never giving proper time to processing and maximizing thought as it relates to battle.
In general, I believe that our society more often strongly emphasizes the pursuit of purpose through soldierly activities than through that of being a sage. For many, the primary source of learning or discovering purpose is “on-the-job training,” and the pace at which we live our days helps dictate the need for soldierly actions. Step in. Do the task. Finish the goal. Cross the finish line. Act. Achieve. Accomplish. These are all words that many of us are familiar with and are engrained into our minute by minute.
Simply recognizing this is not the same as casting blame, for it is to be expected that action should take precedence in everyday living when we are continually connected to an overwhelming and never ending source of information and content. There is so much to do because for many of us there simply is so much. Therefore, as we have progressed and adapted to our times, it is only natural that we have systematically developed more soldiers than sages. The types of people that we develop culturally are most reflectively of what our culture most deeply values. We claim that we value intentional thinking, that meaningful reflection is important and a major influencer on the success of our ultimate desire to find and accomplish purpose, however, our actions do not support our vocal claims. We wield our schedules like soldiers to the exclusion of our sage-like qualities, stopping only when a major battle is lost to our surprise. Whether we realize it or not (and by default of being soldiers we often do not), we are developing soldiers who occasionally masquerade as sages, not the other way around.
Therefore, I find it imperative to not only shed light on this cultural bias, but to also encourage and establish, most importantly within my own heart, a refocused commitment towards sage-like ways. The outcome of this practice is not to become an over-thinker, but to become a good-thinker, and to avoid being an under-thinker.
This dichotomy of thought is seen in thousands of little ways in hundreds of areas of our every day lives. Once you begin to think consciously about the progression of sage to soldier or soldier to sage, you will begin to notice many ways in which your inclinations have created mental and often physical pathways for your daily life. One of the most common and subtle examples of soldierly impulses is in articles such as this, in which content is shared above only to often be skipped for the 10 practical bullet points of action presented at the bottom. If you are a writer attempting to communicate a thought-provoking message, it is nearly imperative in today’s culture to include at least a few “next steps” or “action items.” These summary content-bites focused on the action steps to be taken are once again, not inherently wrong, and in most cases are extremely helpful.
Yet, it can be argued that even these bullet points of practicality are covertly encouraging more soldiers over sages. When it becomes easy to practice things that are intellectually difficult and stimulating, it is likely that soldiers are being bred over sages. While action is important, and practical next steps are imperative to actual development, skipping the moments of intellectual wrestling and thinking can create men and women who fight with swords as if they are wooden sticks, rather that expert warriors, equipped with hard-fought personal understanding of the subject matter at hand and therefore then are prepared to act.
So rather than give you a list of the 10 ways that this impacts your life or will change the way you think starting tomorrow, I’d like to encourage you to come up with your own 10 take-aways or practical next steps. My resolve to not answer this question in this moment does not mean that this will never be answered; perhaps it would be better to write another article after some good time has passed in which I attempt to answer these take-aways based on my own experience, but if you do the hard work of internalizing this thought and wrestling through it to see if you agree or disagree and if so, why — then what will it matter to you what I think or not? You will no longer be dependent on me and my take-aways, you will have instead built into your foundational repertoire one more experience of sage-like thinking, from which you can go equipped to be the soldier in pursuit of your purpose.