Sorting as a Mode of Thinking (5/23/17—Cajabamba, Peru)

The analytical thinker approaches most situations, problems, and experiences in much the same way that one might approach a giant ball of knotted and confused, multicolored threads, with the objective of untangling and carefully separating the various colors. Everything is present—right there in front of you—before you begin the work of differentiating and separating. But it is a massa confusa—a veritable chaos that invites patient organization into cosmos. The confusion of the initial state will not sort itself out if we leave it be—but it will allow us to disentangle the knotted and intertwined threads if we go about our work carefully and patiently—like mental spiders. As soon as we attempt to rush things or we lose our patience, we run the risk of severing important threads or merely adding to the confusion by pulling and tightening knots instead of loosening them.

Persons who have not taken the trouble to learn how to think their way into and out of these labyrinthine situations (that constitute the great bulk of everyday human experience, when viewed with a high-powered, critical lens) are routinely being devoured by some Minotaur or another. Those, on the other hand, who are both courageous and patient enjoy the kind assistance of Ariadne. Brute strength is never enough, by itself, to unravel the riddles of the psyche. We psychologists cannot suppress a laugh at that mighty conqueror, Alexander, who brazenly hacked at the Gordian knot. Few historical anecdotes better convey the decline of Greek subtlety that accompanied the rise of ‘barbaric’ Macedonian imperialism.

Knot-work, like ‘wu-wei,’ tempers and restrains the aggressive and fiery impulses—allowing things, persons, and situations to open up before us at their own deliberate pace—in their own measured time. Weaving and unweaving, tying and untying, saying and unsaying, making and unmaking: what knowledge must we first master before such Janus-faced virtues and abilities can be earned? Those who categorically disparage analytical thinking—and they are legion—should perhaps not be trusted with our ‘valuables,’ for they know not their true worth.

It is not difficult to track down the various and sundry sources of such sweeping condemnation of discriminative thinking. ‘Sour grapes’ of one sort or another can almost always be found hanging just out of easy reach of such condemners. Perhaps they yearned for those mature and tasty grapes but lacked the patience and earnestness needed to obtain them and, in a fit of exasperation, deemed them ‘sour’ and of no worth to anyone but a fool! Or perhaps they were the unfortunate victims of a malicious critical thinker whose numerous scalpel and stiletto incisions left them scarred, their minds irremediably prejudiced against all sharp-edged implements—which, as we know, can heal, as well as hurt, depending on whose hands wield the blade.