What’s The Most Important Thing You’ve Read In The Past 6 Months?

Has the most important thing you’ve read recently come from a book — non-fiction, a novel, or a short story — a newspaper or magazine article, a blog post, the lyrics to a song, a poem, or a note from a friend?  Or, perhaps, some other medium?

And, what has it been about? The pandemic?  Politics?  The economy?  Or has the most important thing been about a passion of yours?  Or has it taken you deeper into a hobby?  Possibly it’s something a friend wrote you via snail- or e-mail.  Or, maybe it’s been about something completely different.

Lastly, have you done anything differently because of what you’ve read?

Related questions:  What are you reading?  What are you thinking about?  What is important?  

What Are You Thinking About?

Every week, Michael and I meet online to talk about questions for Intellectual Roundtable. These conversations always start the same way: with the question, “What are you thinking about?”

The discussions we have are wide-ranging. They might cover interesting things we have read, from online articles to non-fiction books, from novels to blogs. Sometimes we discuss thought-provoking conversations we have had with others.

The topic of our health, mental or physical, occasionally comes up. How we make the decisions about how to stay as healthy as possible, from the food we consume to our exercise routines.

We also talk about politics. We don’t spend too much time on the latest happenings in Washington D.C., but rather what we consider the ways to make life better, both for us individually but also for society in general.

Sometimes, these conversations can be distilled down to particular questions for this blog. Some of them are obvious, and make for insightful questions. But not always. Sometimes, we can’t quite get the wording right. Or the content can’t be boiled down to one sentence. Or a question just isn’t apparent.

But what we have to say is always engaging. We never run out of things to talk about, and I always end our meeting having been exposed to ideas or perspectives that I hadn’t before.

And it all comes from a simple question: What are you thinking about?

Related questions: How much of our thoughts are our own? Where do shared ideas exist? What do you think about when out for a walk? What are you reading?

When Should You Criticize Someone?

Being critical of someone else can be a tricky endeavor, even if it is well-intentioned. If you criticize, it might be interpreted as a personal attack. If they respond with a defensive posture, it might make effective communication more difficult.

When To Criticize

Sometimes, it is important to challenge someone else’s ideas or comments. If a friend or family member expresses an idea that you strongly disagree with, particularly if that idea is hurtful or dangerous, it should not remain unanswered.

By engaging with someone, you might be exposing him or her to a point of view they may not have encountered before. That can be a very valuable thing, particularly in this era of online bubbles of group-think.

But sometimes being critical does not serve any defined purpose. The person being criticized is unlikely to change, and might not even listen to the criticism. If all that can be achieved is hurt or angry feelings, then keeping silent may be a better course of action.

How To Criticize

So knowing when to criticize and when not to is important, but then so is knowing how to do it. How can you get someone to listen, to accept your opinion in a constructive way? How can you avoid a personal attack, or at least avoid such an appearance?

It can be a fine line between denouncing someone’s ideas and insulting who they are. A person’s strongly-held belief can be a cornerstone of their identity. In that case, condemning the idea may seem akin to condemning the person. That is no way to get someone to keep an open mind, and get them to consider other points of view.

So really, there are two closely-related questions: When should you criticize someone? And how should you criticize someone in order to get them to listen?

Related questions: How can we encourage debate? What words have the most power? How important is respect? What makes a good friend? How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

Why Are We Here?

This is a question that people have been pondering for as long as mankind has existed. Is there a purpose to life? Why are we here?

Each one of us, consciously or not, answers this question. We manage to get out of bed each morning and start our day. In order to do that, we must find a purpose.

Maybe that purpose is focused on the future. In order to fill our hungry bellies at the end of the day, we need to work to make that happen. We are here to make money. To live more comfortably next year, it is important to organize and plan now. Some even think that this life is just preparation for the next. We are here to to get to where we will be next.

Similarly, others are focused on the present. We do what makes us happy in the moment, from spending time with friends and loved ones, to hobbies, to physical or mental challenges. We are here to make the most of what we have.

In contrast, there are some that treat life, and the universe where we live, as a giant puzzle that we try to solve. Life is like the ultimate escape room scenario. We are here to figure out how the world works.

In addition, some people purposely do not think about it. If you follow the example set by your peers, then perhaps a purpose will reveal itself. Go to college, get married, buy a house, have a few children. At some point, one hopes, we’ll figure out why we are doing what we are doing. We don’t know why we are here, but we’ll figure it out eventually.

While you can look to others, like a parent, or a religious or spiritual figure, ultimately it falls to us to set our own purpose. To find our own meaning. Maybe you think there is a grand plan. Or maybe you think life is a series of random events. But the meaning is what we bring to it.

What is the meaning that you bring to it? Do you see a larger purpose? Lastly, how does your meaning impact how you live your life?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life? What is important? Are science and religion compatible? What is unknowable?