We may tout ourselves as the most technologically advanced, sentient beings in the history of mankind, but do we really use our minds when it comes to researching facts, formulating opinions, or even challenging our own previously held convictions? In the modern world, opinions trump facts, disagreeing or debating has been ditched for demonizing, and civil discourse has become very uncivil indeed. Ignoble ignoramuses repeat their talking points ad nauseum, to hell with the facts or consideration of someone else’s personal, religious, or even cultural convictions.
And because we believe that modern man is so technologically brilliant, we allow anything from any source to infiltrate our brains, without so much as a moment of pause for consideration. If we read it or hear it, we blindly support it, deny it, or obsessively regurgitate it. Facts used to mean something; not anymore. Anyone anywhere can create a platform to blast out their views regardless of the truth or the author’s motives. Words attached to a graphic meme have now become the gospel, and celebrities have replaced subject-matter experts. Swiping an electronic screen has replaced diligent research and trolling/name calling has replaced debating your point. Actions are represented either positively or negatively depending upon the reporter’s personal views. We are no longer a planet of independent thinkers but rather drones who are told—and who accept—who is right and who is wrong.
Remember when you were growing up and you were told not to believe everything you read or hear, and never to assume because it makes an ASS out of U and ME? Critical, pragmatic, and contrarian thinking has gone the way of the dinosaur. I am mortified by the things that are posted on social media or blogs and then endorsed by people who assume they are true simply because they saw them somewhere. Trust, but verify has been replaced by Trust, then vilify. After all, if I am offended by a viewpoint that does not align with my own regurgitation, it must be condemned!
The Foundation for Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as “…actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication…” The key words here are right at the very beginning: actively and skillfully. This implies that we make a conscious effort to understand and evaluate, and that we practice it habitually; but instead of honing our discernment, too many of us have settled for spoon-feeding. How can we all be better critical thinkers and begin to stem the tide of intellectual apathy?
- Consider the source: Are you reading the Washington Times or the National Enquirer? Where do the stories that get passed around on the Internet come from? Why is an expert qualified to speak in his or her area of expertise? It’s imperative to think carefully about the source of your information. If there is no basis for credibility, ignore it. We hear a lot about the difficulty of finding unbiased news. The truth of the matter is that it’s very difficult to report the news in a completely unbiased fashion. That’s where critical thinking comes in.
- Think about the issue: Never believe a word you hear or read without doing your homework. We can defeat the repetition of falsehoods by gathering information from several sources, thinking about it from a multitude of angles, and synthesizing it into a unified whole. Hopefully, you’ve surrounded yourself with people whom you consider to be smart and rational, the ones who can distill the hype down to the real meat of the issue. Ask them to synthesize the points being discussed as an objective frame of reference. And then carefully take a look at them to see if they make sense to you!
- Draw Your Conclusions: It may seem like it goes without saying, but we really do need to put all of the pieces together and form a conclusion about the topic at hand. Too many of us allow our threads of thought to trail off without tying them up. Discipline yourself to form cohesive and well-thought-out conclusions about the important topics of the day based upon careful gathering and analysis of credible sources of information. And never forget that your conclusion must be congruent with your core set of values and convictions, otherwise you’ll be a double-minded man, unsteady in all his ways, and speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
All of which leads us to the simple but profound question: What do you think? If you rigorously follow these guidelines you’ll be surprised at how rapidly you will improve your understanding of important issues, along with your ability to really discuss them—not just state your position—spontaneously and with authority. And remember, once you rise to a higher level of thinking, you will definitely stand out from the masses. This can make you a target for imbeciles. Don’t indulge them in arguments. As the good book says, When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are. (Proverbs 26:4)Think critically! Each of us has a brain; we just need the mind to use it.