Stating the Obvious | Value of the Obvious | Dog-thought and Lion-thought

Dog-thought and Lion-thought

To Brooker the observation that a hotel is an anonymous place is a seemingly obvious one, just as it may be to many of us; yet, whilst we may have thought it before, we may not have given it much thought. In calling attention to it, De Botton allows us to meditate upon the idea.

Due to the pace of our lives, we may find it hard to find the time to think about things. Buddhist Matthieu Ricard describes two ways of thinking, ‘like a dog and like a lion. You might try to tackle your thoughts in the same way that a dog runs after every stone thrown at it, one after another. That’s just what human beings do most of the time, in fact. Whenever a thought arises, we let ourselves be carried away by it. That first thought gives rise to a second, then to a third, and to a whole endless chain of thoughts that only sustain our mental confusion. But the other way to react is like a lion. You can only throw one stone at a lion – because he turns on the thrower and jumps on him.”1

We may already know that a hotel is an anonymous place, but what is it to know this? To know something does not necessarily imply that we have given the thing in question much thought, something that is symptomatic of the ‘dog-like’ thinking that Ricard describes; as we think one thing (‘this hotel feels like an anonymous place’) the thought may quickly be replaced by another (‘I can smell food, which reminds me, I’m hungry’), and another (‘Where can I eat?’) and so on. Very soon the initial thought has become lost within the rhythm of experience.

In this sense we could see De Botton’s work as an invitation to react like a lion; that is, to step outside the flow of thoughts, in which most get lost, and to hold onto this one thought. We are allowed access to it; it is hauled up from a turbulent sea, and we are able to examine it once again; to see if it looks the same as we remember it looking, or if, perhaps, it appears changed.