David Charles, a first-time author, describes Think for Yourself: The Importance of Maintaining Individuality and Freedom of Thought as a “personalized look into today’s growing global society” and succinct discussion of “the necessity of maintaining clear and enlightened thinking on a variety of key subject matter.” His thesis is straight-forward: The “information age” provides myriad opportunities unimagined by previous generations, but “[g]lobal standardization has in many ways contributed to the homogenization of numerous aspects of life.” Tackling the topics of medicine, food, education, work, children, family, individuality, green living, decision, attitude, flexibility, information, intuition, money, self-esteem, and common sense, Charles promises “a passionate and provocative manifesto for the self-determined individual, who forges a unique path in life.” All in 90 pages (including the Foreword, Preface, Introduction, and Acknowledgements).
Think for Yourself suffers from two fundamental and, ultimately, insurmountable flaws.
First, Charles’ thesis, rich with promise, is never fully developed or explored in enough detail to allow the reader to determine whether or not he/she agrees with the author. Charles contends that, as a society, we are so overwhelmed by the ready availability of information that we have become followers rather than leaders. He argues that a “willingness to follow the crowd and fall in line behind ‘the next greatest thing’ or ‘popular thought trend’ has fostered this decline in individuality and free thinking.” But the few examples he cites are, by and large, nothing more than personal anecdotes that he has failed to fully flesh out to test whether they actually illustrate his convictions, as opposed to reliable indicia bolstering his conclusions.
For instance, he recounts how his friends’ son developed an infection at the site of a surgical incision. Following an allergic reaction to the antibiotic prescribed to treat the infection, the surgeon directed that administration of the antibiotic be discontinued and, in fact, advised that merely draining the wound regularly would allow it to heal without further medicinal intervention. Charles concludes that the “lesson here for our friends was that they need to be very careful with medications when it comes to their son. He has allergic reactions to many of them and since most, they have been told, can be ineffective when it comes to a certain hospital acquired bacterial infection; [sic] it makes very little sense to use them.” He goes on to explain that many of the unidentified medications to which he refers “seem to take so much out of the system through side effects” that prudence dictates questioning whether the benefit to be gained from utilizing the medication outweighs the associated burden(s). Charles recommends that patients remain involved in the process of obtaining medical advice, including whether or not medication(s) are indicated, ask their pharmacist about various drugs’ uses and side effects, and if not satisfied with the explanations provided by their physician, seek a second medical opinion. He concludes the six-page chapter, as follows: “Think for yourself. Self-preservation is your sovereign right.”
None of the information provided in that first chapter, entitled “Medicine,” elucidates Charles’ main theme. Rather, the young boy’s reaction to an unnamed antibiotic is a fairly common experience shared by millions of American families, including mine. And it may well have been that, by the time the allergic reaction manifested, there was sufficient medication in the boy’s system that additional doses of any antibiotic were simply not needed. It is a giant leap from one young boy’s allergic reaction to wholesale generalizations about the use of unnamed medications under unspecified circumstances. Charles is not a physician and, therefore, not qualified to discuss in-depth the cost-benefit analyses of medications in individual cases, although he tacitly suggests a pattern of over-prescription. His hypothesis remains unproven.
The remainder of the chapters plod along in the same fashion, peppered with cliches and platitudes about his seemingly idyllic life with his wife and only child. For example, Charles pronounces that “[r]espect is key for us in raising our child. All that anyone wants is respect. From family, friends, peers, and colleagues. Respect is vitally important in maintaining relationships.” That’s hardly news. He then details the many ways in which giving their son “time in” (as opposed to a “time out” for misbehavior) have allowed the boy (whose age is not revealed) to become “extremely well behaved,” noting that he “travels well and can keep his cool through the entire process, including travel to the airport, security lines, boarding the plane, and long flights.” Charles offers no suggestions to the harried parents of several children who are struggling simply to put dinner on the table and provide for their children’s medical needs (see Chapter One – “Medicine”) in the wake of one parent having lost his/her job, and the health insurance it supplied, as a result of the current economic climate. Getting a child to sit through “long flights” is the least of many parents’ worries and most of us would gladly have given our children more “time in” if, like Charles’ wife, we’d had the option to “devote all of [our] time to being a full time mom.” Meanwhile, Charles “decided to do independent consulting work so that my base of operations is from home and my hours are flexible.” As the old saying goes, “nice work if you can get it.” The reality is that most of us can’t.
Some of the events Charles describes in order to illustrate his points are not just off-target, but, worse, inappropriate. One example stands out as particularly offensive and insensitive. “Flexibility is also essential for the free thinker,” Charles decrees. He discusses the death of a contractor who decided to work late on a Friday evening at the site of a school district’s administrative office building project which had been delayed due to inclement weather. The diligent contractor, along with the engineering team, were trying to resolve a problem related to the building’s concrete foundation. If the foundation was not placed before yet another forecast storm pounded the region, the project would be further delayed and costs would escalate. So the contractor was determined not to quit until he was finally able to work out the details. As he was leaving for the evening, “he parked his car at the top of the slope and went to get out of the car and open the gate. The car apparently popped out of gear and rolled backwards before he could safely exit.” Tragically, the contractor was killed. Charles suggests that a freak, totally unpredictable accident might have been avoided if the contractor had been “flexible up front and not push[ed] so hard to attain the goal, . . . ” He advises readers to “[s]tay flexible and think for yourself.” If Charles had not already lost my faith in his writing long before then, he certainly would have at that point.
And that leads to the second major flaw in Charles’ work. Every competent writer must ask him/herself who his audience members are. It is clear that Charles neither contemplated nor answered that question. Think for Yourself is poorly written and replete with trite truisms and shallow observations that prove only how out of touch with the life of the average American Charles really is. The book is overly-ambitious and completely devoid of in-depth analyses of any of the numerous aspects of daily life at which Charles takes a shot. As I read, I kept asking myself, “For whom did he write this book?” Sadly, no answer was forthcoming. The book is far too pedestrian to appeal to educated professionals, but fails to provide the practical insight, resource materials, or therapeutic exercises that might benefit timid or inexperienced individuals who are struggling to find their own independent voice and become empowered in their dealings with others.
David Charles’ writings have heretofore been limited to “Web-based reporting, project progress documentation, and classic business correspondence . . .” Rather than attempting to digest such an arduous, wide-ranging topic, he would have done well to narrow the focus of Think for Yourself, concentrating his efforts on one or, perhaps, a couple of areas — rather than sixteen. Thorough, painstaking research, judicious editing, and the marshaling of concrete, verifiable evidence in support of his theories concerning individuality — or the lack thereof on display in current society — would aid in his development of an authentic, authoritative voice. Unfortunately, Think for Yourself: The Importance of Maintaining Individuality and Freedom of Thought advances neither Charles’ convictions nor his credibility. I’m sorry to say that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Charles’ first book.
I read Think for Yourself: The Importance of Maintaining Individuality and Freedom of Thought in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.