Thinking and Thoughtfulness: Part 4 Thoughtfulness


At the beginning of this series I mentioned a distinction Bernard Lonergan made between common sense and scientific thought. As far as I remember, Lonergan did not address the idea of thoughtfulness. But this concept cries out for analysis as a matter of logical development and even more so for its cultural relevance; in my view thoughtlessness is a central feature of contemporary culture.

Now that we have before us the concepts of observation, common sense, scientific thought and introspection we may be able grasp the subtler concept of thoughtfulness and understand how it relates to theology and the religious life.

Unlike observation, thoughtfulness is not intense concentration on something. It’s not perception of the relationship of things to our needs and wants. This is common sense. Nor is it acute insight into the relationships among things considered apart from us. Here we are speaking of scientific thought. And thoughtfulness is not merely the inward gaze that distinguishes idea from idea, mood from mood and feeling from feeling. Introspection is at work here.

Consider how we use word “thoughtful” in everyday speech. Sometimes we designate an act as “thoughtful” and at other times we speak of a person as “thoughtful”. A thoughtful act manifests insight into the need and desires of another person coupled with forethought and goodwill. Thoughtful people are likely to perform thoughtful acts because they possess awareness, sensitivity, anticipation and empathy toward others. Thoughtfulness is heightened awareness of what is hidden from external observation joined with caring involvement with people. In the common use we see clearly the ethical dimension of thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness in the wider sense I want to explore includes this kind of awareness but is more comprehensive.

By thoughtfulness in this wider sense, I mean “thought-FULL-ness,” that is, comprehensive awareness. Observation, common sense, scientific thought and introspection are one-directional and focal. In observation and scientific thought you sometimes forget your entanglement with the object of focus, that is, how it affects you and you affect it. In common sense you can lose sight of the object’s existence in and for itself because you are concerned only with its effect on you. In none of these modes of thought are you aware of yourself in the act of relating to the object or of how your or the object’s relation to God affects the total situation.

Ideally, then, thoughtfulness is simultaneous awareness of every dimension of your environment and your relation to it; it is awareness of yourself, your relationship to other things and of the relationships of other things to each other at the same time. In thoughtfulness we do more than observe and think about something; we also become aware of our observations, thoughts, feelings and judgments. We do more than interrogate the objects we think about. We also question the relationship between us and the object of our attention, taking into account all aspects of our relationship to it—causal, ethical, religious and esthetic.

Thoughtfulness challenges every automatic and habitual way of relating to things, ideas, people, God and ourselves. Thoughtfulness insists that we bring our every act and relation into the light of rational deliberation, freedom, moral judgment and awareness of God. Thoughtfulness takes nothing for granted. It interrogates every act, feeling, thought and every appearance. It raises not only narrow scientific and common sense questions but reflexive questions, questions that question the questioner.  “What am I doing?” “Why am I doing this?” “Why do I want to do this?” “Should I do this?” “What does my action reveal about me?”

Most important of all, thoughtfulness is awareness of God in all these relationships and dimensions. For a Christian, our relationship with God must be the decisive factor in all relationships, feelings and acts. Everything possesses a relationship to God, a relation of dependence, meaning and direction; and a thing’s God-relation is the most fundamental relation it can possess. It is the central component in its identity. No one is truly thoughtful who is not mindful of the presence and relevance of God to all things.

For a Christian, every relationship and every activity is a matter of conscience. Conscientiousness is habitual thoughtfulness in relation to God. It is awareness of God as the third factor in every relationship, every activity and every decision. It is constant awareness of God as our Creator, Guide, Judge and Savior. A conscientious person does not forget God in the daily routines of life and views forgetfulness of God as a serious fault. Conscientiousness sanctifies every aspect of life. All of it is lived before God and directed to God.

I will omit examples of thoughtfulness because I hope that every post I make on this blog illustrates and embodies thoughtfulness. To be continued…

Coming soon: the nature, forms and consequences of thoughtlessness.

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