Cause and Effect Thinking!


By Larry John

I am not a “real scientist,” but I love the way that scientists think. They question everything and they love the art of doubting not only themselves, but their fellow scientists. I love the story of Albert Einstein, who, when asked why he thought of so many ideas that no one else had thought of said, because there was nothing to do at his patent office job leaving him so much TIME to think. He just sat at his desk and thought. If time to think were the only key to his thinking, all homeless people would be the world’s greatest thinkers. So obviously, Einstein had other things going for him. Or maybe he was just asking the right questions. It is not everyday that a homeless person would wonder about time and space. They might….but it would be what TIME will I get my next meal and will there be SPACE for me at the local halfway house. The fact still remains; Einstein contributes a great deal of his abundant thinking to the abundance of TIME he had to think. TIME was the “cause” Einstein accredited to the “effect” of this thinking.

As many of us learned in high school and college, scientific thinking has more to do with a lot of time for trial and error. You think of a possible solution, you try it, and if it doesn’t work, you think of another possible solution and try it, until you find the solution that works. “After one and a half years of work, success was achieved by Thomas Edison, when an incandescent lamp with a filament of carbonized sewing thread burned for thirteen and a half hours.” That’s a long time of trial and error for a short time of success. “While most of the attention was on the discovery of the right kind of filament that would work, Edison actually had to invent a total of seven system elements that were critical to the practical application of electric lights as an alternative to the gas lights that were prevalent in that day.  These were the development of:  the parallel circuit, a durable light bulb, an improved dynamo, the underground conductor network, the devices for maintaining constant voltage, safety fuses and insulating materials, and light sockets with on-off switches. Before Edison could make his millions, every one of these elements had to be invented and then, through careful trial and error, developed into practical, reproducible components.”

This is the scientific process that must be followed if you want to solve questions in life, too. You have to try something and see if it works for you. Then you have to question why it works for you or, better said, what are the “cause” and the “effect” of your findings. You must examine the “cause” of your thinking and then the “effect” of that type of thinking. Without examining both the cause and the effect of your thinking, you don’t get the full result of being a Pragmatic Thinker. Your thinking might be “caused” by someone else’s thinking and all you are doing is believing.  You could just be regurgitating someone else’s thinking with the “effect” of your thinking, still not knowing for yourself. If all you are going to do is think the way someone else does, then “they” are the cause of your thinking and stupidity, gullibility, sheep-like, follow the leader thinking may be the result. In order to be a Pragmatic Thinker you must always examine the “cause” AND the “effect” of your thinking.

For example, when I was three years old, I really believed the stories of Santa Claus. I really believed that he had elves and reindeer and that he lived at the North Pole, that he came down chimneys on Christmas and brought all the good little boys and girls the presents they wanted. I didn’t come out of the womb believing in Santa Claus, but by the age of three, I was a true believer. I knew that Santa lived and could see me when I was sleeping and knew when I was awake. I knew that the cookies and milk I left for him to eat on Christmas Eve were really eaten by him. Santa could make everything that was bad be good. He was so powerful he even had flying reindeer with Rudolf leading the way. Well the “cause” of my thinking was the fact that my parents and others told me Santa was real and the “effect” of that thinking was a childlike excitement, and even a childlike fear, of this man called Santa. If I weren’t good, I would get a piece of coal. Hey, I was always afraid of that piece of coal thing. I was always relieved when I got presents and not coal, even though deep inside I knew I hadn’t been that good. Now that I am much older, I think the idea of Santa is silly to be believed as totally true. In examining my “cause” of this belief… which was my parents, they were also the “cause” of my non-belief. The day Mom told me she and Dad were really Santa Claus I was devastated. It hurt to learn the truth. Many times as we examine the “cause” and the “effect” of our thinking and belief, the truth hurts. As Charles S. Peirce, the founder of pragmatic thinking said, "The pragmatist knows that doubt is an art which has to be acquired with difficulty." Doubting concepts and beliefs that we have believed for years, only to find the “cause” of our thinking or believing was flawed, is very difficult to stomach.  The “effects” of our findings may appear unwarranted or unwanted. Yet it is through much trial and error that true joy is discovered. The final “effect” of our thinking should be a joyful life even if the “cause” of this joyful “effect” was pain and sorrow. Pain, sorrow, unhappiness, crisis, loss, death, infidelity, hatefulness, separation, divorce, fear, or deep thinking all “cause” us to evaluate our thinking, much of which we have blindly believed. The effect of flawed thinking is unhappiness and living in stupidity. However, stupidity being the “cause” to want to know more makes the “effect” of enlightenment worth the price of the ticket. If you are stupid, think about it, and then vow to get smart and enlightened. Don’t say I am stupid and that is that. Stupidity can be the “cause,” but not the “effect”. Stupid is as stupid does and stupid does not question the “cause” of their thinking and the “effects” of that thinking.

You might have believed your whole life that you could never sing because your older brother laughed at you when you first tried. So the “cause” of your not singing was the ridicule and teasing of your older brother. The “effect” of that “cause” was that you never sing when anyone can hear you. The “cause” was silly and so was the “effect.” Don’t let someone else be the “cause” of flawed thinking. Flawed thinking is the “effect” that will never bring you joy. I talk to friends all the time and ask them their political view. They might say, “I’m a Republican”. When I ask them why, they say, “Because my Dad and Mom were Republicans”. The “cause” of their political view was their parents. The effect was they were Republicans because their parents were and as a result they had no political convictions of their own choosing. I am always amazed that people choose their religion for the same reason. My Great Grandfather was Methodist, my Grandfather was Methodist, my Dad was Methodist, and I am Methodist, too.

Here is a “cause and effect” THINKING exercise. This exercise will help you examine your thinking and evaluate if your current thinking really works for you.

Thinking: What is it I currently believe or think?

Cause of Thinking: What or who caused me to think this way?

Effect of Thinking: What effect does this way of thinking have on my life?

Question: Should I change my thinking or continue to think the way I currently do?

Example 1:

Thinking: What is it I currently believe or think about my job?

Answer: I hate it!

Cause of Thinking: What or who caused me to think this way?

Answer: My boss. She treats me like dirt. She doesn’t give me the respect I want and need. I can’t stand being around her any longer because of the way she makes me feel. MY BOSS is the reason I hate my work. She is the “cause” of the way I currently think about my job.

Effect of Thinking: What effect does this way of thinking have on my life?

Answer: I hate going to work everyday. I am not happy because of the way that my boss makes me feel at work.

Question: Should I change my thinking or continue to think the way I currently do?

Answer: In order to be happy, I must either change jobs or change my way of thinking about my current job and my boss.

Decision: I will change my thinking about my job and my boss. I have to work to provide for my family. The job I have is a good job. My boss is not a bad person; she just doesn’t treat me the way I want to be treated. I get paid well for what I do. I must take responsibility for my own feelings and not blame the way I feel on my boss. I will change my thinking about my job and my boss.

Example 2:

Thinking: What is it I currently believe or think about my church?

Answer: I am supposed to go to church each week.

Cause of Thinking: What or who caused me to think this way?

Answer: My parents told me that I must go to church each week.

Effect of Thinking: What effect does this way of thinking have on my life?

Answer: I feel guilty when I don’t go to church. I feel that God is disappointed in me when I don’t go to church.

Question: Should I change my thinking or continue to think the way I currently do?

Answer: In order to be happy, I must either accept the thinking taught me by my parents or decide for myself if going to church makes me happy and is what I want and need to do.

Decision: I have decided I want and need church in my life. I will no longer go to church out of guilt or because my parents told me to go or out of fear that God will curse me. I will go because it makes me feel good and gives me spiritual balance in my life. I have decided that going to church is what I want to do, so I will go to church.

Now these are just two examples of everyday, simple life questions. This is not deep thinking by any means. But the formula of “cause” and “effect” thinking also applies to the hardest and most concerning questions of life as they relate to God, family, marriage, relationships, judgments, work, play, religion, politics, sex, health, exercise, love, hate, lusts, vices, money, likes and dislikes, right or wrong, good or bad, character, ethics, morals, heaven, hell, and yes, even Santa Claus.

Questions are your friends. Question all of your thinking and ask what “causes” me to think the way I do? What is the “cause” and what have I allowed to be the “effect?” Ask who and what is the “cause” of your thinking… the media, politicians, religious leaders, parents, teachers, pundits, psychics, celebrities, spin doctors, bosses, friends, even traditions and superstitions. You know, parental prearranged marriages used to be the tradition of society. It was our parents who used to choose our future wives or husbands for us. We don’t do that here any more. We questioned the reason and changed our thinking. But when it comes to thinking, people are still telling us how we must think and what we must believe. Is someone other than you choosing the way you think? They have a “cause.” What is the “effect” on you? Think about it.