“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Whatever you may think about Margaret Thatcher and how she handled her authority, her relationships, her family, her country, you cannot deny the influence she had. She wasn’t out to win a popularity contest; she didn’t try to make everyone feel good. She did, however, say, “All I wanted to do was to make a difference in the world.” And that she did by being willing to make decisions that no one else wanted to make. I think the real key, though, the thing which enabled her to make those tough decisions and to move with such clarity in her life, was that she valued truth, thoughts and facts over feelings and emotions.
Someone, I believe it was a doctor, asked her how she was feeling. It’s an understandable question, especially for a doctor to ask. Thatcher immediately fired back, “What? What am I ‘bound to be feeling?’ People don’t think anymore. They feel…. One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas. That interests me. Ask me what I’m thinking.”
Why did she place so much value on thoughts, and so little value on feelings? Seems a little foreign, especially in a culture, which, as she pointed out so poignantly, values feelings arguably above all else. She explained, “Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become…habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become. My father always said that.”
Wow! Could it be true that your thoughts are really at the basis for all that you do and all that you become? If this is so, then she is right—our thoughts are critical.
Thatcher didn’t include feelings in her list of “becomes.” Thoughts become words, become actions, etc. I would like to propose that our thoughts also influence our feelings. How we choose to think affects how we feel. In fact, we can change how we feel when we choose to change our thinking. I learned that from Pollyanna! Did anyone see that great classic with Hayley Mills? She would play the “Glad Game” where anything bad that happened, they made a game of finding some way to be glad about it. When she found a way to think positively about something, even something she previously felt bad about, she found she didn’t feel bad anymore. It’s hard to feel sad about something you are glad about.
Bob George in his book, Classic Christianity, proposed that feelings are nothing more than responders to our thoughts. Feelings respond. Therefore, sad feelings are just responses to sad thoughts, angry feelings responses to angry thoughts, etc. Therefore, it’s not enough to just say that thoughts are important. They are, but that doesn’t take it far enough. It’s not enough to focus on thinking alone, but on right thinking. Thinking, to be right thinking, must be based on truth. You see, bad thoughts produce bad results—feelings, actions, character, etc., and good thoughts produce good things.
So what are good thoughts? The Bible gives us a list of the kinds of things we should fix our minds on. It says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Just that first item on the list is transformational—whatever is true. How many thoughts do we allow ourselves to dwell on that aren’t even true—thoughts that are negative and even hurtful to our own selves?!
If we are able to place more value on right thinking than on feelings, we will find that it is easier to make tough decisions. You have heard it said that you can’t please everyone all the time. This is true, but if you are motivated by feelings, you’ll find that you are trying to please your own feelings as much as you are trying to please everyone else’s—and that is a losing battle. There has to be a higher aim, something more solid. This is why Thatcher was so concerned about being “governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”
If, however, you can see past people’s feelings (your own and others’) and get to what is true, what is best, then you will be freed to make better decisions—the kind of decisions which may not be popular in the immediate, but which will be best in the long-run. It’s the kind of change in focus you have to have when you go on a diet, when you choose to value the truth of health and nutrition over your feelings of desire for some food or comfort.
Thatcher repeatedly shows this kind of commitment to truth and to the long-term best (over and above comfort in the immediate). You see it in her response to the budget: “Gentlemen, if we don’t cut spending we will be bankrupt. Yes, the medicine is harsh, but the patient requires it in order to live. Should we withhold the medicine? No. We are not wrong. We did not seek election and win in order to manage the decline of a great nation.” She shows it in her perspective of leadership: “I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but what kind of leader am I if I don’t try to get my own way, to do what I know is right?” And as she makes decisions: “If you take the tough decisions, yes, people will hate you today, but they’ll thank you for generations.”
Now, it is possible that Thatcher was just a little too willing to be hated. I don’t want to go so far as to say that feelings have neither value nor merit. I simply think that they should not hold the primary place of value. Paul writes to the Romans that we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Our minds are the starting place. That is where transformation takes place—even the transformation of our feelings. That isn’t to say, though, that feelings are irrelevant. They do count. Otherwise, why would the Bible make a point to mention Jesus’ emotions at times (e.g., when he wept at Lazarus’ death, or his emotional night in Gethsemane)?
Emotions are part of God’s design in us; they are important and shouldn’t be discounted—especially in our dealings with others. Perhaps they shouldn’t dictate our decisions, but they probably should factor into the way we handle those decisions. In the case of Margaret Thatcher, while her decisions may have been spot on, she might have benefitted from a little more delicacy in the way she communicated them. She placed so little value on feelings that she almost seemed to despise them at times. This might be one thing if it was only her own she appeared to despise, but it often seemed that she discredited others’ feelings as well. It was (at least, according to the movie) ultimately this insensitivity, not her politics, which cost her her position as Prime Minister.
I think Thatcher was right, that our culture places far more emphasis on feeling than it does on thinking. You see it in marketing and advertising which panders to our emotions, and in our concern with political correctness and tolerance. I saw it in my education classes, which focused more on encouraging “creativity” than explaining the right or wrong way to do a thing, lest a child feel criticized. I also think that she was right that thoughts are more important than feelings; they are the root of our feelings, our actions, and ultimately our destiny (even if she may have gone a little to the extreme).
The key thing that Thatcher didn’t address, though, was how she knew which thoughts were worthy. All thoughts aren’t worthy. Some thoughts are bad or weak or cruel or just insignificant. I would like to say we could just all trust our own ideas. However, the Bible says that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” It also says that God’s “thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.” This indicates that we can’t just trust our own minds to always think what is good and true and right. It indicates that we need to know God’s thoughts so that we have a standard by which to measure all other thoughts and ideas. The beautiful thing is that God left us his thoughts in the Bible, and He gave us an example in His Son.
Margaret Thatcher wanted to make a difference in the world. God, believe it or not, wants the same thing for each of us. Not sure about that? Remember, we are supposed to be followers of Christ—no one has ever made a difference in the world like He did. Thatcher recognized that the key to making a difference was in her thoughts. She said that “What we think, we become.” What a beautiful thing that God left us His thoughts in the Bible, gave us an example to follow in His Son, and indwells us with His Holy Spirit to strengthen us and help us to this end.
Questions for Discussion:
- Do you tend to place more value on thoughts or feelings?
- Have you found that your feelings do change as you change your thoughts?
- What was your response to Margaret Thatcher? Do you think she was right on, or do you think that she lacked sensitivity?
- Is it possible to be right about a thing, but wrong in how you handle it?
- How do you measure your thoughts? How do you know if they are right or wrong?
- If you only allowed yourself to think about things that followed the requirements in Philippians 4:8, things that were true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and/or praiseworthy, how would that change your thoughts, feelings, actions, and ultimately your life?
Click here to see a collection of quotes from The Iron Lady.