Thinker or Thought Leader

Thinker or Thought Leader April 23, 2019

This is a nice article, and dovetails nicely with Cat. Influencing, says the first, is an old game, but we live with it to an unprecedented, and increasingly alarming, degree. You should read the whole piece. And of course, Cat is talking about blogging and how it is fairing in the age of social media.

The word I hate, though, is Thought Leader. In the middle of Holy Week, my sluggish intellect tried to trace out another word that used to be a thing, a word employed by most people for my whole life, but that seemed to disappear suddenly, giving way to the new words of the age—‘splaining, self-everything, woke, etc. The word before was, as far as I can remember, Thinker.

There have always been elites and intellectuals, those people who studied and rose to the tops of their various fields, or who just had a lot of money and bought their way in. But then there was the category of Thinker—a person who thought about things and communicated those thoughts in a helpful way to other people who didn’t have the time or mental capabilities to get all the way there on their own.

Maybe I’m making this up, but I feel (cough) like you could call someone a Thinker and it made sense. And that it is a different category than the now ubiquitous Thought Leader. Because a lot of Thought Leaders today have almost nothing in common with the Thinkers of yesteryear.

Like, would you have ever called CS Lewis a Thought Leader? I mean, if you would  than we can’t be friends. And yet his thoughts have formed and shaped the spiritual imaginations of millions of Christians for several generations.

The dissonant distinction between Thinker and Thought Leader is that the latter sounds (unlike the former), to my ear, superficially directed towards a predetermined outcome. You have some kind of agenda that you’ve fashioned for yourself by weaving together the various threads and strands of thoughts out there in the public square. This agenda might have some overlap with what we used to call Conviction. But really, it’s more like a Platform elevating your crafted image, especially when there are some lucrative speaking fees to bolster you. You have a message and you stay on it. A crowd gathers around you and you begin to call them your Peeps, and to direct your Messaging into their Socials. All the Thoughts that you have are organized in a singular direction, toward the people who are now following you. What you really think about any given subject may remain hidden, or is not really relevant. In your capacity as Thought Leader your job is to help other people on their way. Your message has Resonated. And that’s great because now you can make a living on it.

This seems manifestly different to me than a Thinker who writes and speaks with no final goal in mind. The people I like to read, yea even on the internet, think about a fantastic range of topics. They do not any of them have a Brand. They also don’t have a Platform, literal or otherwise. I am not able to buy anything on their websites. They themselves frequently stray away from the orthodox, acceptable thoughts of the hour. They don’t use words like Should and Must. They almost never trend on twitter.

I find them here and there in my searching, and after a while I stop clicking and go read books similarly replete with the fascinating thoughts of other people. I am often helped by the Thinking of others, enormously helped. And am rarely able to tell them so, because I don’t know them and won’t meet them, not in this life anyway. And I imagine that they are mostly poor because I read their writing for free, except for the dancing people in all the little boxes that pop up, that I carefully cover with my hand or a book.

I do think there is an important difference between engaging with someone else’s ideas and being influenced. In the first case you take responsibility for your own thinking, and wrest time away from social media to do it. In the second case you are languidly, sometimes thoughtlessly, moved along in a direction by someone else’s monetized brand.

I think there would be some relief for the Thinker, who wouldn’t be worried about staying on message. There is nothing to lose by communicating with other people, by using words to sort out the myriad, sundry subjects that come at one over the course of a week or a month or a lifetime.

Influencing is for sheep, and of course we are all sheep. We go astray, each to our own way. There is only one person who could gather all those wandering, lost ones together and to feed and nourish them—not with the strange offer of a product that would cost them their souls, but with himself. If I have to follow along after anyone’s thoughts, they should probably be His.

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