War begins with an ‘inaccurate premise’, says Nancy Kline. But what if we could root this out before it takes hold in our leaders? What if we could nurture independent thinking?


I can’t write about Ukraine. Thousands are. And I am glad, if exhausted – wringing horror from each piece and sluicing it through my heart.

But they aren’t saying what I would say if I could.

They are rummaging around in Putin’s war trying to explain the butcher’s butchery. They’ve found things like humiliation, the kind that sucks on the tail of hubris and then eats up the world.

They’ve found woo woo ‘Russianness’, expressed only as empire.

They’ve found maniacal narcissism and its crazed ‘history-chose-me-so-I-will-make-stuff-up-to-tell-my-people’.

They’ve found 1,000 years of fear of invasion and its theory of ‘historical realism’ which has nothing to do with being realistic, but only with strategic self-interest of competitive powers.

And when you tilt your head just so and gird your non-binary loins, you can get a bit fascinated by these theories applied to this entirely non-theoretical, empty-eyed man.

And you can recognise that inside Putin’s pathology there is a premise and a concomitant pristine logic driving his actions. Irrational acts are rational inside the premise of the actor. Understand the logic of the illogical and you can negotiate. Therefore, understanding Putin’s premise that ‘transcendent Russianness requires empire’ may help us make a truce in the end. Glory be if so.

But no one in Kyiv or Bucha or Borodyanka or Mariupol or Odesa is scratching their heads about the fine points of Putin’s internal logic or egomania or mythical Russianness or concocted threat of invasion or fulfilment of historical realism.

They die. They flee. They stay. They weep. They fight.

So I cannot write about Ukraine. It is too much a thing of unspeakable suffering.

I can breathe a bit as Ukraine’s think-for-yourself fighting philosophy outwits Russia’s don’t-think fighters. And I can praise the allied giving. But most of all, strategically I can write about the gravity of an inaccurate premise. War, I would assert, begins there.

So before war even murmurs, we can mine for, palpate for, find, confront and replace inaccurate premises in leaders, especially those yet to be crowned. We can nurture independent thinking, universally. That may take more intellectual maturity and stamina than anyone with power to effect it can summon. And the self-serving nature of large-scale political inaccurate premises may preclude any prevention.

But if humans can think afresh, and I know we can; if humans can move from intractable positions, and I know that we can; it is not half-witted to work for ‘premise literacy’ as a way to prevent war, to advance civilisation.

We also will need to raze humiliation, in policies and in children, so that inaccurate-premise-promoter-monsters can’t emerge. A big job. Too big most would say.

It is unpopular, too, I realise, during right-now torture to call for some-day change. But even as we send Stingers and Javelins, sterile needles and cannulas; even as we harbour refugees, we can use our fine minds to intercept inaccurate premises and their humiliated, hubristic prey who walk among us.

We can herald a future of independent thinking that can spot an inaccurate premise before it advances an inch.

We owe both to the magnificence that is Ukraine, that is humanity.


  • Nancy Kline is founder and president of Time To Think. She created and pioneered the development of The Thinking Environment.