What characterizes your thoughts?
Are your thoughts courageous? Are they fanciful? Are they rewarding? Can you be a hero just sitting at your desk, thinking?
New York Times columnist David Brooks discussed this in depth in a Sept. 1, 2014, column published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
As Brooks writes, it’s easy to see heroism in a soldier who displays courage under fire. But can someone sitting at a desk, alone, be a hero? He can, with the right thoughts.
Brooks cites the 2007 book “Intellectual Virtues,” by Robert C. Roberts of Baylor University and W. Jay Wood of Wheaton College. The authors list six characteristics that would determine whether you might be a thought hero.
First, Brooks writes, one must love to learn and be ardently curious. In other words, a thought hero would seek the most information he can before he talked about, or formed an opinion about, something.
Secondly, one needs courage. It’s not just a willingness to hold unpopular views, as Brooks writes, but, as he puts it, the reckless thinker takes a few pieces of information and leaps to some faraway conspiracy theory.
Third is firmness. That’s the middle ground between surrendering one’s beliefs at the slightest opposition, and holding dogmatically to a belief against all evidence. You might say it’s an upgrade from wishy-washy, and a dial-down from arrogance.
The fourth is humility – not letting a good story get in the way of the facts, to paraphrase a quote attributed to Mark Twain.
Then there’s autonomy – forming your own thoughts, not just adopting as gospel what someone else may have told you. You may gladly accept others’ guidance, but, in the end, what you think should be your own.
Finally, there is generosity. If you know something that someone else doesn’t know, you share it – willingly and for free. It also means hearing others as they wish to be heard – not looking to pounce on others’ errors, Brooks writes.
All this adds up to openness of thought. To open one’s mind, one must also open his heart and soul. Today’s society is loaded with what the comedians call “truthiness.” Ads, political statements, online postings and other communications are loaded with stretched truth, even outright falsehoods.
The dangers we face have to do with what we accept as true. Along the way, if we have constant curiosity, we might find that something we were told was true by someone or something we respect may not be true. We have to recognize those situations as we encounter them.
So, after reviewing the “Intellectual Virtues,” where do your thoughts fit in? Are you truly open to the truth? If you are, visit You’ll see and hear real, truthful stories from real people. You might even like what you hear and see.
It’s possible to become more intellectually virtuous if you are honest about yourself and your thoughts. Change can be hard. Improvements may come slowly. But if you desire intellectual virtue, go for it! Do what you need to do to get it. It may not be as hard to attain as you might think. And, others you never thought would may follow you.