There is great power in independent thought, although these days, it seems group think is what we seem to get. Just because you hear it on the news or from a pundit doesn't mean it's true. In this conversation, Joan takes a look at how we can train ourselves to think more independently and challenge ourselves to get to our personal truth.

Q. I think people like to be accepted and so they tend to go along with the crowd when it comes to ideas. Some would say this has gotten us into some trouble in society because things have gotten so politically correct. For example, one wrong word or phrase could lose you your job. When is it ok to go along with others and when is independent thought better?

Joan: Independent thought is not popular but it is priceless. It is essential for progress. When we think like everyone else is thinking, the best we can expect is to achieve what they’re already achieving. But to climb higher and achieve greatness, one must be able to think independently and “outside the box” so to speak.

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Most people want to be liked and fit in, which leads to going along with the crowd. We fear being outcast or even reprimanded. That fear causes us to stifle our thoughts and opinions. I believe that independent thought should always be encouraged. For that reason, the tag line for my radio show is listen, learn, think and decide—which means, listen and learn something new, think about how it can be applied, and then decide for yourself if you want to incorporate it into your life.

I don’t think we should ever just go along with others, not rocking the boat. I believe we should all strive to think for ourselves and have our own opinions.

Q. I think there is a climate of fear when it comes to free speech these days. As mentioned above, one wrong phrase and you could be in a lot of trouble. What do you do if you make a mistake and say something that could be considered offensive?

Joan: I agree that there is a difficult climate where it is very easy to get involved in heated debates. I’ve said it before that we’ve become a society where people feel entitled to say whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want. I don’t believe the thinking is the problem, but rather the filter. There is a time and place for intelligent discussions based on facts, and we need to relearn how to recognize when those times arise. We do not need to troll people and incite arguments, we do not need to write dissenting comments just to be heard or for the fun of it. The problem lies in people “looking for trouble” as opposed to having thoughtful, insightful dialogue. It’s not the independent thought, it’s the behavior.

I understand that everyone has a right to his/her opinion and I try to respect that right. If I make a mistake and say something offensive, I apologize. A simple, heartfelt apology can work wonders.

Q. Are we losing our independent ideas and thoughts? What can we do to improve our communication and continue conversations instead of arguments?

Joan: I think we are. I think social media and the need for expediency keeps us from educating ourselves and thinking for ourselves. When we see something posted, most assume it to be true and then pass along the fake information. We need to expose ourselves to new ideas, different ways of thinking, opposing views … you never know what you may learn.

To improve our communication and encourage independently thinking we can:

Listen, really listen. Hear what the other person is saying. Try to empathize with him/her and understand that person’s frame of reference. Stop thinking about what you are going to say next and understand what is being said to you.

Open your mind to the possibility of something new. Seek out experiences that challenge your current views. Visit new places, meet different people. If you truly want to think independently, you need to get outside your comfort zone.

Disconnect from conventional sources of information. Stop listening to commentators spewing their opinions and seek out neutral/independent sources so you can form your own opinion.

There’s a lot to be said for independent thinking. Think independently and you create a world of limitless opportunity.