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Thinking can make it so (much better)

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By Michael O'Hare
Thursday, July 25, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

One can devote a lifetime to the study of Shakespeare's work. For now, I just want to consider one line that I came across recently.

Hamlet says in part: “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

That's a powerful thought about the power of thought.

If you consider the point in the realm of personal ethics or on the plane of global relations, there is considerable concern over its significance: one might conclude we can do anything we want if we think it is good or are content with it being bad in a good cause. Historically, that has had some horrible results.

But I am interested in exploring the point in connection with our everyday lives.

Is there a single moment that goes by in which we aren't called on to assess the goodness or badness of something.

Did you talk about the change in the weather this week; did you see that it was good?

The news media (yes, us included) constantly bombards us with information that we seem compelled to assess as good of bad, and most of us conclude that most of it is bad.

News broadcasters and newspaper headlines often use words that might help us think whether what we are hearing or reading is good or bad.

But none of this is reality; it is just thinking, according to the bard.

I would rather try to be an impartial observer and leave the assessments to others. It is a news-guy thing.

To be sure, journalists are not automatons free from developing their own opinions. Although, I have to argue that for all of the bias that people might presume on the part of journalists most that I have known operate more in line with Hamlet's point.

We are recorders of the other people's thinking, and as observers we do not necessarily buy into the arguments — no matter how frantically we may be taking notes.

I recall many times when, as a reporter, a source would be intent on convincing me to a certain point of view. I took their effort to be emphatic to mean that he or she wanted to convince the larger public through me and pressed on, simply nodding my head.

Is it possible for us to avoid thinking that creates good or bad or somewhere in between?

Perhaps not.

Yet, there may be a middle ground, and it can be found by realizing that what we think is not reality.

Expressed simply, it means we should try to “take everything with a grain of salt.”

If we do that we will be less likely to blindly follow what we “think” is prevailing wisdom (perceived good) and then follow that to a radical polarized thinking (or a dead end).

For example, as a nation we “think” there were immediately two poles of “thought” after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Such polarization — I ‘think” — leads only to more polarization toward which we blindly follow.

What seems to be lost in the public dialogue is compassion for two young men — one dead and the other a person who may possibly live in fear the rest of his life.

Of course, that is just another line of thought.

So tonight, when you have a spare moment (do we get those anymore?), sit quietly and close off thought as best you can (you can never stop that train completely). And just observe what passes in your life — the sounds of the street, chirping of birds, a TV in another room.

Realize that you can take a break from that thinking that creates your world — and just be, just observe and be content. There is a value in this life and thinking about it cannot make that better.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with News Editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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