William Deresiewicz on multitasking and solitude (2009)

& (verbiage overflow)Mon 31 October 2011RSSSearchSubscribe

Addressing a class of young military officers, William Deresiewicz says:

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else's; it's always what I've already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It's only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn't turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

Solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there's one more thing I'm going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I'm talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. … This is what we call thinking out loud, discovering what you believe in the course of articulating it. But it takes just as much time and just as much patience as solitude in the strict sense.

William Deresiewicz, "Solitude and Leadership," The American Scholar, Spring 2010 edition. Originally delivered at the United States Military Academy at West Point, October 2009. On line at http://theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/ (accessed 20111031). Deresiewicz's regular column, "All Points," is on line at http://theamericanscholar.org/daily-scholar/all-points/.

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