I’ve noticed something strange in the last five years or so: people seem to have forgotten how to think, and nowhere is that troubling fact more obvious than in the workforce. This lack is not limited to common sense. It is not limited to emotional intelligence. It seems that the sheer capacity to question, to wonder, and to contribute something new to our collective human consciousness has been almost entirely snuffed out by self-satisfied complacency and attention spans so short they would make you average four-year-old blush. There may be some other reasons, too.
Admittedly, questioning authority (and the status quo) isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always safe. Depending on the reigning style of management at a given organization, sometimes offering an opinion too loudly or promoting an alternative too forcefully or rocking the boat too vigorously can be a quick way to enter the ranks of the unemployed. We need to be careful about how we broach certain subjects. Battle cries for new world orders clearly need to be tempered with some tact. But the thing that no one needs is another lemming following its brainless predecessors off a cliff.
As a species, we have been given the gift of reason, the capacity to think for ourselves. Yet, too often, we default to the opinions of “experts”; we bow to the expertise of our “superiors”; we get swept away by the torrent of groupthink just because it’s there. We have gotten comfortable and become lazy; we are content to let others do the thinking for us. We have forgotten how to think critically, failing to question the decisions being made all around us with neither our input nor our consent. We have been trained to get along by going along. The newest generation of employees has not been rewarded for being innovative. They have been downsized, outsourced, and laid off. This is partially their fault and partially not. They try to go unnoticed so that they can keep their jobs. For many, it’s purely a case of self-preservation. Keeping their heads down has made them invisible, entirely unremarkable, and kept them under the radar. The unfortunate fallout is that it has also made them drones. What a waste.
Some of the most influential people in our history have also been the most cantankerous. Galileo Galilei, widely known as the father of modern science, refused to let go of the notion that the earth is not, in fact, the center of the universe. For that, he was tried by the Inquisition and found guilty of heresy. He spent the remainder of his life under house arrest because he refused to denounce what he held to be right and true, despite popular pressure. Where was that defiant spirit when Enron was busy cooking its books and stealing billions of dollars from its shareholders? Enron didn’t employ stupid people. For all intents and purposes, it wasn’t that they lacked ethics or character, either. What was missing was the ability to question authority, and the courage to draw a line in the sand.