John Masterson: 'Try these thoughts on for size. Do they feel comfortable?'

Winnie the pooh

John Masterson

I think it was Winnie the Pooh who observed that "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits". I have never achieved Pooh's ability to think about nothing. Pooh was a bear of very little brain, and a great deal of wisdom.

My mind stays active even when I am asleep. That is not to say that it is having any profound thoughts. But it is like a constant ticker tape. Thoughts are being put in and out of brain drawers. And yet, if somebody asks me what I think about a topic, often I only really figure out what I think when I begin talking about it. Unless it is a topic that I have actively focused on, it is as if various thoughts come out of different boxes and I try to make sense of them. Next add in emotions to your thoughts. Ideas become very volatile. Sometimes it is like trying on an idea for size and seeing how comfortable it feels.

We all, at times, speak before we really think. In social situations this makes for lively conversations. It is even useful in work brainstorms when trying to thrash out a problem. A crazy idea sometimes leads to a very good idea. For serious decisions it is better to do the thinking first, though I once bought a car largely because John Lennon came on the radio when I switched on the ignition. I say 'largely' because I am not a total fool, but it did get the thinking off to a good start and definitely influenced the decision.

Try to get thoughts and feelings all lined up leading to action and you are dealing with the sort of problem that must be occupying the minds of our politicians these days as they contemplate an election. How we vote will be very influenced by the narrative, by what they set as the agenda for us to think about, and what feelings come into play as we try these thoughts out. The recent pre-Budget leaks to test the water are in the ha'penny place compared to the attempts to control the story we will see when the election is called.

The results of the presidential election suggest that the Irish electorate is very volatile. Much of the diverse range of emotions and opinions was channelled into a protest vote for a candidate they did not expect, or even want, to win. But it gave people some way of saying they were not happy. Peter 'are those six houses still empty?' Casey became a lightning rod for all sorts of disgruntlement.

The election took on some of the characteristics of a referendum, and, as we see with Brexit, the answer to a complex question is rarely 'yes' or 'no'. If you have no way to express your opinion, people will take anything that is going. We have seen how large-scale disgruntlement affects ballot box behaviour in the US and UK. Hopefully we will manage to do some better thinking. I doubt it. From now to the election I intend to do a check on both my head and my heart every time I hear a political promise.

Language is at the centre of our thinking. Try imagining what goes on in the dog's head without language. It is impossible. And don't tell me the pet understands what you are saying. Fido just recognises patterns and sound that consistently lead to food, a walk or a drive in the car. Fido is not 'almost human'.

It is not a luxury to let your mind wander. It is a good way to take a reading on who you are, what you like, what you dislike, and the state of your life. You might even make some decisions that you would not make if you did not take the time. Time out is not time wasted in my book.

And when the politicians come knocking, as they will some day soon, I want to have the luxury to do a lot of thinking about what small impact I can have on the society we live in. I intend to let my mind wander, see where it goes, wonder how it got there, try it on for size, see what feels comfortable, and cast my vote.