“Think For Yourself” – Hidden Power of Words Series, #31

According to Southern mores, “bless your heart” is typically a veiled insult, despite its sympathetic denotation. “Think for yourself” has a similar, contradictory function.

Think-for-yourself phraseology appears in my inbox regularly, but only when I have publicly expressed my most original and complex ideas and only from people without any expertise (according to information available on the Internet). Because of the work I do, these ideas relate to culture, education, and/or oppression, generally speaking. 

People who voice such an insult might think “there is no way they could develop an idea like that,” but more likely explanations rest elsewhere.

“Think for yourself,” in practice, aims to shut people down who appear threatening–threatening because they voice unfamiliar ideas, they reveal power dynamics, they suggest changes, they (unintentially) unearth ignorance, and they actually do express original thinking–and who cannot meet any soundbite requirements. 

“Think for yourself” is also a baffling insult due to its utter inaccuracy and its aim to halt dialogue before it starts. One can never predict when it will appear. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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2 replies

  1. This was a very interesting addition to your “Hidden Power of Words Series”; and I completely agree, when someone utters “think for yourself”, it too often is accompanied by, or is crafted to invoke, an air of superiority and smugness which inevitably reveals deeper insecurities about their own ideological conclusions (#double-think, #rightwingsnowflakes, #jingoism). Is this yet another case of classic projection (thou doth protest too much)? Why is it that I assume those who told you to think for themselves, either think the United States government was created for themselves, specifically, or are incapable of independent thought?

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  2. I must admit I have understood “Think for yourself” (and probably used it) as a reprimand. I have also found that if students are desperate enough, they’ll plagiarize.
    What was interesting is before I read this post (Tuesday) I had worked with second graders, and I was shocked at the large number of those who could not do just that! They had a building assignment and could not get the group project going! They needed someone to tell them what to do next at the beginning and at every stage of the project. I wondered whether the teachers had “done the thinking for them” perhaps. I stood back and they just stood there when they realized I wasn’t going to start them out. Finally one boy did his own, but he made no attempt to help or even consult others. At the end, he expected to be praised, but when the librarian pointed out that he did not do it cooperatively, so he didn’t do the assignment right, he just didn’t “get it” and felt was very upset.

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