What does it mean to think like Ishmael? Why is it a worthwhile pursuit?
Thinking like Ishmael, again referring to the protagonist in Daniel Quinn’s book by the same title, means taking a step back. It means looking beyond what’s being presented on the surface to decode what’s really going on. Sometimes this can be fairly easy, other times it will absolutely put up a fight.
Let’s start with an easy example.
You’ve no doubt seen the commercials about random prescription drugs, as they seem to be unavoidable. They start by telling you about this incredible, revolutionary product which will absolutely, you know, cure smoking, help you immediately lose weight or solve any other ailment you have, no matter how simple or how severe. The first 15 seconds of the commercial features an off-camera voice telling you about this transcendent product and assures you that you can’t live without it. Unfortunately, the commercial still has another 45 seconds or so to go.
The next 40 seconds will feature something like a big, fluffy dog running through a field of fresh spring flowers, a couple holding hands and walking in the twilight surf, or perhaps an eagle flying majestically over a breathtaking view of the Rocky Mountains. You’re supposed to soak in the beauty, perhaps the romance, of the pictures being shown so that your brain doesn’t process what’s being said by the voice over guy.
May cause nausea, vomiting, kidney failure, physical weakness (asthenia), gas (flatulence), symptoms of weakness, muscle pain (myalgia), upper respiratory tract infection, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), abdominal pain (GI complaints), lactic acidosis (rare), low blood levels of vitamin B-12.
Yes, I took those side effects from a commonly advertised drug.
Seriously? Kidney failure? Upper respiratory tract infection?? Does it really matter whether the dog running across the field can catch a Frisbee or how much I long to be able to spread my wings and fly like that eagle? Not if you’re thinking like Ishmael.
Ishmael sees past the manipulation of the imagery, the music and the overall emotionally charged presentation and listens to the side effects. What could possibly make someone take a drug that causes all of those terrible side effects? Because some person being paid to sell it says it cures acid reflux*?
(*This statement has not been verified by the FDA.)
Now let’s take another step back.
If you’re suffering from acid reflux, have you tried some simple steps? Like, maybe take a Tums or perhaps a double dose of Pepto? Hey, what about maybe figuring out what you’re eating that’s giving you the acid reflux and try not eating it any more? None of these common sense approaches will cause potentially deadly side effects.
If none of the above stop your acid reflux, make an appointment to see your doctor…but don’t do what the commercial suggests. “Ask your doctor about Xlanfiatram.” (Yes, I made up the name). Why on earth would you ask your doctor about some random drug you saw on TV instead of allowing your preferred medical professional diagnose your symptoms and come to his or her own conclusions?
This used to be called common sense, but in an age where marketing is at a fever pitch and surrounds us at all times, common sense is often lost in all of the noise.
Welcome to Ishmael thinking.