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Community Wellness: Town hall takeaway: Thinking, fast and slow

Community Wellness: Town hall takeaway: Thinking, fast and slow

March 10, 2017

Community Wellness: Town hall takeaway: Thinking, fast and slow


By Robert Lathers, LMSWCEO, The Right Door for Hope, Recovery and Wellness


My family took the opportunity last Saturday to attend a community town hall meeting conducted by Congressman Justin Amash at the Ionia Middle School. The crowd was much smaller than I anticipated, but its energy was robust. My 12-year-old daughter protested that we made her go along, but her mother assured her that it was an opportunity to experience democracy in action. We arrived early, as did Congressman Amash, and he began by walking through and respectfully greeting most of the people in the audience, including my young daughter.

He began by acknowledging that he represented everyone who lives in this district and then gave a brief overview of how he was experiencing the issues in Washington. Next he began to take questions from the audience as I leaned over to my daughter and said, “This is what we came for!”

I must admit upfront that I found the congressman’s overall respect to every person who presented a viewpoint or question, some more intensely expressed than others, and his thoughtful almost non-partisan answers, to be quite remarkable. The reason is that I had already decided how I thought this was going to go, based on what I had been watching and reading on social media. To my pleasant surprise it seemed to me that the congressman resisted trying to make the questions easier than they were. In the age of almost total spin and positioning, he seemed to avoid pre-packaged spontaneous, oversimplified answers. The reality is that many of the issues we face are very complex and not solved by changing the question to appear easier, resulting in an oversimplified and inadequate answer.

Since the meeting I have been reflecting a lot on the work of Daniel Kahneman, who wrote the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Kahneman won the Nobel Peace Prize in economics. One of the amazing things about that honor is that he is a psychologist, not an economist. Kahneman’s thesis is that our brain is constantly working to make and keep things simple (fast thinking) and it often prefers to operate on an intuitive, feeling level. However, our feelings are often mistakenly identified by our brains as facts. Consequently, fast thinking allows us to believe that spontaneous answers are rational and correct. But Kahneman goes on to explain that, when answers to problems are not adequate to solve the problem, or when they are too spontaneous or feeling-based, then we are best served to slow down and identify the complex issues around them. “Slow thinking” takes real effort and does not base solutions on feelings, but looks to find workable solutions that are not over-emotionalized and not focused on oversimplified emotions.

Kahneman illustrates the difference between fast and slow thinking by stating that, when asked, “How happy are you with your life these days?” fast thinking answers the simpler question of “What is my mood right now?” but “slow thinking” evaluates the question “How happy are you with your life these days?” to carefully include “How is my general mood? My relationships? My family? My job? My health? Do I feel valued? Do I value myself? Do I value others? Am I contributing to my community?”


Seems to me the real lesson of the town hall meetings happening in our country right now was demonstrated right here in Ionia last week: Slow thinking.


Robert Lathers, LMSW, is the CEO of The Right Door for Hope, Recovery and Wellness, formerly Ionia County Community Mental Health. His email address is He welcomes your comments and questions. If you have a mental health emergency, call 911 or our 24-hour crisis line at 1-888- 527-1790. Visit The Right Door online at and find us on Facebook. The Right Door in Ionia is now open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.