WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?
Recently posted on YouTube was a video of a young, attractive lady allegedly recording herself “twerking” to show off to her boy-friend. The dance ended with her accidently being lit on fire. The internet was all a buzz about this video, as were many news broadcasters. With only the video as reference, many discussions centered around insulting this dance “technique”; some going so far as to blame Miley Cyrus because of her twerking at the 2013 VMAs. A non-critical thinker would have taken this video and used it to reinforce an already established bias (ie: Miley Cyrus is a bad influence) and spew it to any who would listen. A critical thinker would have asked the question, “why would someone post this on the internet?” They would begin to go through a rational, problem solving process to come to an informed conclusion.
For instance, with the increasing number of home-made videos on YouTube contending for attention, it only makes sense to create a shocking video (being lit on fire) utilizing a currently controversial dance move (twerking) in order to get the most amount of exposure. Armed with this type of knowledge (which one would gain from doing research into the psychology of socio-economical structure…or simply looking at what is trending) it would be natural to conclude that this video was a hoax. If that conclusion was wrong, then the experience would be logged away to use for other similar situations. However, in this instance, the conclusion of it being staged is correct: Jimmy Kimmel put this on with the help of a stunt woman and a fire extinguisher. I bet the non-critical thinkers who judged so quickly with unkind verbal diarrhea at Miley Cyrus feel pretty stupid right now.
To define critical thinking is – in and of itself – a critical thinking exercise. Can we truly define this concept? More importantly, can we teach and learn it? Critical thinking is a process, a way of life, a journey of the intellect. To critically think, one must give up the shackles of ego and embrace the freedom of change. It transcends traditional definition. Www.criticalthinking.org goes so far as to say, “Critical thinking is a rich concept that has been developing throughout the past 2500 years” and they pool resources from 1941 to 2008 just trying to provide a comprehensive definition.
The word ‘critical’ invokes the picture of a fork in the road, a vitally important junction along life’s pathway. To critically think is to approach all subjects, problems, and information armed with a set of skills to determine the best path to follow. There is another way to describe this: intentional living. John Lubbock once said “what we see depends mainly on what we look for.” Intentional living says, what we look for depends mainly on how we see, know, and experience. Instead of seeking only that which we already see, we choose to see the whole picture.
So, how does one explain the concept of critical thinking? By looking at the characteristics of a critical thinker and the effects they have on themselves and those around them. Www.criticalreading.com says this:
No one always acts purely objectively and rationally…It is “only human” to wish to validate our prior knowledge, to vindicate our prior decisions, or to sustain our earlier beliefs…We may not always employ critical thinking skills, but we should have those skills available to be employed when needed.
The skills mentioned are the characteristics you will find in critical thinkers. They can be learned and can grow with time and use. One must be: open-minded, unbiased, honest, disciplined, patient, rational, self-aware, and unprejudiced; one must be able to weigh all assumptions, information, and experiences based on relevancy without allowing offense to cloud their judgement. A critical thinker realizes they are not always right; sometimes, what proves to be correct right now may change by tomorrow. They are open to new evidence and opinions. They leave the word “never” at the door. They have learned the skill of entertaining an idea without adopting it as truth. They constantly ask and analyze, dig and seek, to gain the more understanding. Above all, they realize the need to adapt, change, and grow along the path of their intellect.
When critical thinking is employed, one of two things should happen: (1) a belief and/or action is enhanced, matured, and new information is added; or, (2) a belief/action is questioned – in part or in whole – which leads to transformation. In both cases, something must change. If nothing is altered, then we find ourselves in the ‘only seeing what we want to see’ trap.
Richard Paul and Linda Elder (from The Foundation for Critical Thinking Press) put it like this:
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures [characteristics] inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them (2008)
They identify it best as “self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective.” In short, critical thinking is choosing to lay down ego and sense of validation, giving way to true problem solving in a rational, skillful manner.
To build on the skills and characteristics mentioned earlier, there are many seminars, books, articles, and research more accessible now than ever before. Simply typing into your internet search engine ‘seminars on patience’ leads to a myriad of options. Just remember, go in with a questioning heart, an open mind, and expect to be changed.
As an exercise in self-awareness, make a list of 3 things you believe – be it religion, work ethics, relationships, etc. – and ask the very simple question, “Why do I believe this?” Your answers may be short or long, deep or shallow; when you are done, research for both the support and the rebuttal of each belief and begin/continue your journey in critical thinking.