I think, therefore I am … I think!

Column by Jim Bishop

An ad for a high-powered seminar coming up this summer carried the heading, “If I could just take a day to think . . .” Or in this case, several days.

The purpose of the three-day summit – which I immediately decided I wouldn’t, or couldn’t attend because of the exorbitant registration and lodging fees and geographic distance – nevertheless intrigued me. Persons in lines of work similar to mine are invited to assemble and think together in intense sessions about how to effectively enhance the work we do, tackling the toughest issues facing those who do advancement/public relations/communications work in ways that will leave a legacy for future leaders in this arena. Wow!

The promotional copy included buzz phrases like “visionary strategic focus,” “professional networking opportunity,” “rapidly-changing social demographics” and “leadership through symphonic experience” in describing the program, but that didn’t deter me from thinking about the value of such a heady huddle.

It felt especially timely because that annual academic ritual, commencement weekend, has arrived again at my workplace, the 37th year for me to “cover the event.” Little did I think during my own graduation from these hallowed halls of learning in 1967 that I would return four short years later to my alma mater to help record and to tell this never ending story to all who might be open to listen.

Witnessing events like commencement, and others such as the opening convocation of each school year, annual homecoming weekend and recognition ceremonies for outstanding students, remind me why I’m here and why I desire to stick with it when the inevitable ill winds of animosity blow over campus.

It’s a good idea to back off on occasion and ask, What do I think I’m doing? How am I doing? Where am I off the mark? And, how can I do better? That requires some hard, critical thinking.

Such an undertaking can quickly become daunting, discouraging, because it may require making some major adjustments in my regular patterns of activity, how I act and react to what’s unfolding before me.

Remember the weekly TV sitcom, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” with Dwayne Hickman as lovestruck Dobie, Tuesday Weld as the elusive object of his affection Thalia Menninger and Bob Denver as resident beatnik Maynard G. Krebs (“WORK!)? Each episode opened and closed with Dobie sitting on a bench, lost in thought, with a statue of Rodin’s “The Thinker” in the background. Hickman would rise from his reverie and address the television audience, spinning tales of woe usually related to the unrequited love of his life, the aloof, materialistic Thalia Menninger, or other typical trials of confused adolescence.

Face it: thinking is often the process that I THINK I’m doing when I’m merely rearranging my hard fast prejudices.

If I were to actually spend a full day somewhere, maybe not even in seclusion but just away from my usual haunts – maybe mellowing out on the hill overlooking the EMU campus with its spectacular views on a clear day of the Massanutten mountains to the east and the Shenandoah range to the west – would I successfully engage in productive thought or would I largely dwell on all the things I need to be doing but aren’t getting done?

What thoughts are most likely to come to the fore? I think I’d want to reflect on what seems to be going well in my life, what I think I’m best at, accentuate the positive and use that as a base for all that follows.

How would I focus? Would I need someone to help me get my brain in gear and then slip away? Or am I sufficiently self-propelled to stay the course. Even though I believe I’m most productive when flying solo, might the process be better served in a small group context comprised of colleagues and several associates who do similar work in other settings?

This prospect sounds a bit scary, but I won’t know for sure until I try it. What others might think may not be the primary thrust but needs to be part of the process as well.

Clear, forthright thinking is sheer hard work. No wonder it doesn’t happen more often for me.

What do you think?


Jm Bishop is public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.

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