By whatever term we call it, each of us has a philosophy of life that shapes our judgement and behaviour. However, attempts to compare or improve on such philosophies are all too often hampered by overused labels which carry divisive connotations. Instead of clarifying what people mean, they convey contrasting ideas to different audiences. A nominal affiliation, a short-hand ‘left’/’right’ reference, or a loose association with certain groups – can all be invoked to declare someone a follower of this or that ‘ism’ and what that must imply.
Let us try to explore one particular philosophy of life without pigeon-holing it into some pre-conceived box. We’ll call it the Philosophy of Being Thoughtful. In essence, it prompts us to be thoughtful about:
 what we value, since none of us can ignore how the pursuit of our values can impact on others and vice versa, and we should recognise the mutual responsibility we have for our respective actions and their consequences;
 what we believe, since accepting dubious claims and rejecting sound assertions can lead us down erroneous paths, and we should engage in cooperative enquiry to ascertain what does or does not merit our assent;
 what we decide, since the implications of our decisions can’t be fully grasped without discovering the relevant views and concerns others may have, and we should ensure citizen participation is the norm in reaching collective decisions.
In practical terms, this means we should always try to be thoughtful empathically, cognitively, and volitionally – seeking information and understanding to appreciate how others may feel, what views should be revised, and which course of action ought to be chosen given the circumstances. It also means we must anticipate when we will have insufficient evidence, resources, or time to think everything through – we should be ready to act on the basis of what is available to us but prepared to revise our position if and when we can access more that is relevant; and just as importantly, we must constantly help expand inter-personal understanding, empirical knowledge, and collaborative arrangements as essential long-term development for our common wellbeing.
And what difference would it make? We can look at a few examples.
First, how do we view others? There are some who regard others as inconsequential when they go about getting what they want. There are some who look down on others just because of their skin tone, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, or economic background. But being thoughtful means we regard others as we would want them to regard us; we try to understand what it is like to be in their shoes; and we respect their preferences so long as they respect us and intend us no injury.
Secondly, how do we respond to ignorance? There are those who want to spread misconception and superstition, because they want to deceive others for their own ends, or they are lost in their own delusion. But being thoughtful means we are to learn from experience and experiment; apply objective tests and explorations to assess what deserves to be accepted as credible; and promote education that is grounded on science and critical scholarship.
Thirdly, how do we behave in society? There are those who are content to leave everyone to their own devices even though some will hurt and subjugate others. There are those who simply want to have the power to exploit and dominate others. But being thoughtful means we give our support to inclusive arrangements to give everyone a meaningful say; to collaborative structures for making decisions with wider social implications; and to forms of governance which protect us from harm by individuals, groups, or corporations.
Finally, how do we deal with threats? There are some who want to strike hard at whoever they deem a threat – severe punishment for alleged lawbreakers, torture for anyone accused of being a terrorist, military attacks on any foreign country designated an enemy – and do so regardless of whether or not the accused in question is guilty. But being thoughtful means we are to focus on establishing what poses the real threats; find the most effective and proportionate means of dealing with those who threaten us (deploying diplomacy, offensive action, rehabilitation, and incarceration where it is appropriate); and treat the threat from those who abuse the power to protect us as seriously as the threat they claim to protect us from.
While many will recognise the traits and dispositions characteristic of this philosophy of life, few will agree on a name for it. Elements of it can be found across diverse cultures since ancient times; they feature in the ideas of a number of Renaissance and 17th century thinkers; in the writings of many Enlightenment advocates; and in the advice put forward by numerous cooperative and progressive-minded reformists from the 19th century on. Being Thoughtful is perhaps the closest we can get to capturing the common strand in all of them that reflects what has been outlined here.