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In praise of naughty thoughts

  • 29 August 2022
The subject of this Stray Thought is not sleazy thoughts. It is rather the thought of becoming a lion tamer which might steal upon a person focused from childhood on being a musician with all the sacrifices that this choice has entailed. Or the thought that might lead a soccer goalie to leave his position and go forward to score a winning goal for his team.  Naughty thoughts are secret, personal and disruptive. They defy the conventional wisdom we have accepted about career, security and responsibility.

Naughty thoughts are dangerous. The stakes are high. The goalie will be remembered as a hero if he kicks the winning goal and as a goose if the opposition win the ball and run into an open goal. The doctor who suddenly left his home, his wife and children and began a new seaside life as a plumber may have found fulfilment but certainly left behind devastation. Perhaps Mr Morrison’s move to become Minister for Everything began as a naughty thought. Others now dismiss it as a brain fade.

Though dangerous, however, naughty thoughts should never be dismissed. They lie at the heart of personal discovery and cultural change. St Ignatius’ thought of becoming a saint instead of a career officer and Newton’s thoughts after being sconed by an apple changed their own lives and the world. They activated a love searching for its object. Naughty thoughts lie at the heart of all creation. Poems and paintings begin with the desire to capture an experience that is always beyond capture. It is a love that demands to be followed even at the cost of intruding on day to day life. 

The risk and the attractiveness of naughty thoughts are caught in Blake’s image of the ‘invisible worm’ in the red rose, a subversive love that can ruin lives. And yet it is a source of life. To neglect naughty thoughts is to lock out possibility. To entertain them, however, demands a high degree of self-reflection. What have been your naughty thoughts?


  Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services. Main image: